How to Bounce Back After A Mental Breakdown

Life is unpredictable and messy. You can never predict how your circumstances will affect your mental health and overall well being. Whether you’re picking up the pieces from a significant tragedy or managing a mental illness you’re already aware of, learning to take care of your mental health is a daily battle, but a battle that you’re capable of winning.

1. Reach out for help

This may seem obvious, but for many there is still a huge stigma attached to admitting you are struggling with mental health. The Mayo Clinic defines a nervous breakdown as "a stressful situation" where you are "temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life."  Though pride or fear of rejection may cause you to turn inward, you don't have to carry your struggles alone and there are people who are trained and willing to help you. According If reaching out to a mental health professional feels overwhelming, talking to a close friend or family member can help ease you into the process.

Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman recommends asking friends of family for referrals to a therapist who has been helpful to them.

"If you don’t want to tell them that you’re looking for a therapist, you can go to your school’s mental health clinic. Or, if your school doesn't have one, you can look in directories (such as Psychology Today) or call your local university hospital or psychoanalytic institute for a referral. You can’t really count on the quality of the therapists that your insurance lists. You may need to try more than one therapist until you find one who is helpful. Medication (such as an antidepressant) will not cure your depression. It can help with symptoms while you are undergoing therapy from a psychiatrist or psychologist."

Vanessa Rinker, a graduate assistant at the University of Central Florida, experienced a deep period of depression when she struggled to find work after finishing undergrad.

“I felt isolated especially because I graduated early so all my friends in school didn’t understand,” she explains. “If I wasn’t at work, I honestly just slept and had no interest in anything—I didn’t hang out with friends or talk to my parents, just stayed in my room all day. The more I looked for jobs the more depressed I became.”

Dr. Lieberman recommends  "things like exercise, flowers or plants on your desk, aromatherapy, self-help books and so on" to change your daily routine.

Vanessa says she started gaining confidence by getting outside and talking to people, even something as simple as asking to pet someone’s dog.

“I felt better to the point where I reached out to one of my old professors just to see how a paper she had been working on was going,” Vanessa says. “Upon doing so she replied asking for my phone number and called me to offer me full funding to the MA program that I had applied for. It’s weird to say because it’s said so much but there really is a reason for everything that happens. I look back now and if I would have gotten that internship or a job right at the start I wouldn’t have gotten the better opportunities presented to me. I wouldn’t have strengthened my friendships here or met my boyfriend or have gotten a masters degree.”

2. Build a support group

Kayley Ingle, a Florida Gulf Coast University grad and public school teacher, battled depression when she became the main caregiver for her grandmother who was on hospice.

“I put my two jobs on hold and essentially my future on hold to come home and care for her. When she passed away, summer was almost done and I was supposed to be starting my career teaching,” Kayley says. "The best resource was the people around me...I think we sometimes I underestimate the power and kindness of people but that was the best resource I could’ve asked for."

If you can’t access an in-person support group, online forums are an alternative.

No Stigmas, is a free mental health community that provides peer support and allyship to members. 

“There are a variety of roadblocks—simple lack of understanding and resources, access to treatment, and the stigmas that are still associated with mental illness. We want people to remember that they are not alone in their mental health journey,” says Kate Summers, No Stigmas Communications Coordinator.

No Stigmas connect members through Facebook groups and offers and online learning center and resource directory for free and low-cost counseling across the country. Organizations like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and Mental Heath America also offer support group networks.

No Stigmas also launched an Ally Training program last year, which has trained nearly 1,500 volunteers to organize and facilities support groups in their communities.

“It’s been really exciting to see people come away from it with more knowledge about supporting others who are struggling, but also their own mental health and self-care, and having the confidence to take that knowledge out into the world,” says Kate. “The hope is that Ally Leaders will take the tools they learned in the training into their own communities.”

Related: End the Stigma: Medication for Mental Illness

3. Seek professional help

Counseling is expensive, and the cost alone is enough keep people from receiving the help they need. If you are still enrolled in school or employed by your university, many colleges offer free counseling to students and employees. If you have a job with a benefits package, or are covered by a parent, guardian or spouse's insurance, see if their plan includes mental health coverage or if vouchers are available for a certain amount of sessions. 

Mary Kent experienced several breakdowns because of financial hardships when budgeting her first year as a teacher.

“There were times that wouldn't leave the house other than for work because I was exhausted or afraid to spend money,” Mary says.

“I never sought out free counseling because I’m new to the area and didn’t know where to go. Asking for services like those is still seen as such a negative thing.”
Luckily, Mary says was able to a counseling session through her employer’s health insurance. If you are uninsured consider signing up for a state-sponsored health care plan which could offer income based tax credits that would lower your monthly premium  and out of pocket costs.Some clinics offer an income-based pay scale, and if you qualify, you could even receive free treatment. Though it may take some time to find help within your budget, it is possible.  

4. Be kind to yourself

Dr. Lieberman says the best thing to do when you're feeling overwhelmed is to take it easy. 

"When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, the first thing to do is to simplify your life. Perhaps you can drop or take an incomplete in a class until you’re feeling better. Or you can stop working at your job and cut your expenses instead. Rid your life of toxic people who make you feel bad and make your life more difficult. "

Maggie Smith, a University of Florida grad and Peace Corps volunteer, felt extreme anxiety when starting to plan life after the spending two years overseas.

“Straight after graduation, I went to serve in the Peace Corps which essentially postponed entering the real world for 27 months. At one of our conference training there was a session about looking for jobs after Peace Corps and I nearly had a panic attack then. Since then I've had lots of anxiety about returning to America,” Maggie says.

Maggie was able to attend counseling through her program to help her cope with the stress.

“Anxiety about entering the real world is completely normal. It's hard and even though it looks like I'm doing fine I'm not. Its exhausting to be depressed and always anxious. Getting out of it takes time so be patient.”

Related: Things to do when you are having a mental breakdown

5. Find your outlet

Taking time to self-care is crucial to managing your mental and emotional health. For Vanessa it was reading and going outdoors. For Kaley it was going to gym. For Mary it was talking to her mom. For Maggie it was was journaling. What calms your nerves or brings you joy? Carve some moments of peace and reflection into your day to take a step back and just be.