Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
21 Sep 2021
5:10 pm

Signs of a nervous breakdown – when moms need intervention

Renate Engelbrecht

Here’s what you need to know about the warning signs and the helplines relating to stress, anxiety and nervous breakdowns.

Fatigue can lead to a nervous breakdown too. Image: iStock

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be rather challenging in many ways, including physical, spiritual and emotional struggles – the latter lately catching many off guard. News headlines recently of mother Lauren Dickason who allegedly strangled her children to death with cable ties point to mental health issues after she was referred to a psychologist.

A move to a new country, going off your medication, lack of support and a myriad of changes point to some serious challenges which Dickason could have been facing.

Here is how you can be more aware of your inner-workings and protect yourself from being beset by a nervous breakdown.

Did you know?

According to the South African Federation of Mental Health, roundabout 20% of South Africans suffer from a psychiatric illness, which makes it the third highest contributor to the country’s local burden of disease. Covid-19 has undoubtedly also added to this statistic in recent months.

What is a nervous breakdown?

A nervous breakdown can be described as a period of extreme mental or emotional stress, so great that you are physically unable to perform your usual day-to-day activities.

A nervous breakdown can occur due to the build-up of anxiety over time or a sudden tragedy. Other possible causes include a major life change (like emigrating to another country), constant stress at work, depression, poor sleep, abuse or financial challenges.

READ: Covid-19 survivors tell of living with PTSD, anxiety and fear

Signs to look out for


Depression is a common reaction to stress. Feelings of hopelessness and suicidal or self-harm thoughts may often accompany depression, posing as a proper warning sign.

You may also experience low levels of energy, a lack of interest in daily activities, crying episodes and sadness.


Anxiety is another culprit that should not go unnoticed. If you are feeling nervous about something, but you don’t know what it is, you may be suffering from anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety often include dizziness, trembling, muscle tension, high blood pressure and even stomach cramps.

Mood swings

Overwhelmingly negative moods and unpredictable emotions are signs of a brewing nervous breakdown.

Uncontrollable anger, helplessness, fearfulness and emotional outbursts are typically associated with nervous breakdowns and increased sensitivity is another red flag.

Panic attacks

According to, panic attacks can be a warning sign of a nervous breakdown, especially when they happen frequently over a short period of time.


Being paranoid about someone watching or stalking you could also be another sign. Paranoia may also be accompanied by hallucinations, where you see or hear things that are not there.

Strange events

PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) may also be cause for alarm when it comes to nervous breakdowns, including flashbacks of traumatic events that took place in the past.

Other strange happenings may include increased taste, sight or smell or people’s voices may sound hollow or as if two people are talking at the same time.

Problems concentrating

According to Reader’s Digest, “chronic stress fries your attention span,” which inevitably affects things like working and driving. Excessive amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone) can also deteriorate your memory and you may find it difficult to make decisions or to solve problems.


A nervous breakdown could also be accompanied by a change in appetite, with some people not eating enough and others eating too much.

The stress hormone, cortisol causes you to make the wrong choices when it comes to food too, and you’d probably opt for high-fat, high-sugar foods rather than the healthy options.

Sleep patterns

In the build-up towards a nervous breakdown, some people sleep much more than usual, where others experience insomnia. Therefore, anything that’s out of the ordinary when it comes to your sleep patterns might be worth taking note of.


According to, “someone going through a nervous breakdown may feel isolated and may withdraw from friends and family, worsening that feeling.”

Difference in behaviour

People suffering from a nervous breakdown may also show some behavioural changes like offering short responses where they would normally elaborate, becoming easily aggravated, and more. They may also skip out on responsibilities and work and avoid social activities.


As if the above is not enough, you may also experience severe exhaustion and even a low libido, as well as weakness in your body which makes tasks that are normally easy to handle, rather difficult. It also happens that things that normally bring joy in your life, have no appeal.

Who can help if you suffer from a nervous breakdown?

Cipla has a 24-hour mental health line (0800 456 789), or you can contact the National Counselling Line on 0861 322 322 or Whatsapp 065 989 9238.

You can also contact the Mental Health Info Centre, the Mental Health Society or the SA Depression and Anxiety Group.

The Pretoria-based ZwavelStream Clinic is situated on a picturesque 10-hectare stretch of land – a unique, tranquil space for healing. They boast a rather extensive and impressive professional team and conditions that they frequently encounter and assist with include anxiety, depression, work-related stress and more.

Akeso Behavioural Healthcare Group has trained crisis line specialists and counsellors assisting people seeking guidance, advice, and information. If you should experience a mental health emergency, they are powered by Netcare 911 and can assist with ambulance intervention. Phone them on 0861 435 787.