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In Praise of the Nervous Breakdown


Sep 25, 2012
Planet Lunatic Asylum
In Praise of the Nervous Breakdown - Mad In America


I am not arguing for the wholesale abandonment of diagnostic specificity, nor the blending of all distress episodes into a single term. Clearly there is some usefulness (at least to the care team) in knowing whether a person’s contact with reality has been lost, or whether anxiety or despair predominate, or whether suicidality is present. But these important aspects are typically found in the case description rather than in the diagnostic label in any case.

Certainly there are people in whom a biological predisposition to episodes of distress or decompensation is a major factor. Certainly there are people for whom a purely medical approach is necessary or more helpful than a nonmedical one. And certainly there are individuals whose illnesses will prove chronic rather than episodic.

But to suggest that the idea of nervous (or “mental”) breakdown is necessarily a more primitive concept than the inaccurate or faux-precise diagnostic categories with which we currently diagnose people seems false. If we look at the utility to the sufferer, I suspect that the older and less formalized perspective may be superior.

If only we could get psychology students to agree.

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Well-known member
Aug 17, 2012
The West Country
You know what, I actually agree with this.

I get that some people will say they've having a breakdown for dramatic affect, but actually, using a vaguer term like this when someone is going through intense distress rather than some questionable diagnosis could potentially be a good thing.

A diagnosis, I think, actually really limits understanding and genuine help.
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