Some people are surprised to find that the term “nervous breakdown” is not actually a specific medical diagnosis, nor does it have a clear definition under the law. This is to say, it does not refer to any particular behavioral disorder or mental health crisis.
In fact, the phrase has become something of a taboo among many modern mental and behavioral health professionals. Much of the older language used for speaking about mental and emotional health carries a great deal of stigma due to historical attitudes around these issues. As our understanding of mental health deepens and our cultural acceptance of emotional health as a core part of overall well-being expands, the language used to refer to these issues naturally changes as well.
Defining a Nervous Breakdown
A nervous breakdown is a descriptive term that people sometimes use to describe severe emotional or mental health crises. A nervous breakdown usually involves a situation that causes someone to have such a severe emotional response that they are unable to function normally. A nervous breakdown is different from an acute anxiety attack because the person suffering the nervous breakdown feels that they have been affected long-term or permanently.
Victims may have even developed a diagnosed mental health condition as a result of the event in question. This triggering event may be a single traumatic incident, or it could involve a long-term build-up of stress. Someone who has suffered a nervous breakdown will often describe panic attacks, heart palpitations, disorientation, disrupted sleep patterns, or other physical manifestations of mental illness as symptoms or long-term effects.
Everyone experiences mental and emotional health struggles differently, so every nervous breakdown looks different. Common signs someone has suffered a mental health crisis that would be defined as a nervous breakdown include:
- Disrupted sleep patterns or inability to sleep
- Persistent feelings of anxiety, fear, or paranoia
- Feelings of guilt or shame with no clear rationale
- Calling in sick to work repeatedly after a workplace incident
- Inability to conduct routine tasks, cleaning, personal hygiene, etc.
- Loss of appetite or emotional over-eating
- Avoiding social engagements
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Turning to alcohol or drugs
In short, a nervous breakdown could refer to any severe mental health crisis with long-lasting consequences that make someone’s life more difficult. If you’ve suffered a nervous breakdown due to a workplace incident, persistent harassment, or an unsafe working environment, you may be entitled to seek damages from the responsible party. A qualified employment attorney can review the details of your case and help you develop the appropriate legal strategy for moving forward with a claim.
When Workplace Stress Becomes a Violation of Your Rights
Experiencing stress at work is not, by itself, a violation of rights. As per the American Institute of Stress, 80% of employees feel stressed at work and 25% report work as their number one stressor.
Good stress can be a normal, healthy response to a difficult situation; it gets your adrenaline flowing, which helps you to focus on tasks and perform at a high level. However, stress that is persistent, constant, or has no productive outlet is toxic and can have serious consequences on both your mental and physical well-being.
If persistent, undue stress at work is causing you to feel unstable or physically unwell, ask yourself if your condition is being caused by any of the following conditions:
- Unsafe working environment
- Harassment or bullying
- Violence or threats of violence
- Negligent practices by supervisors or co-workers
- A superior or co-worker intentionally putting unreasonable pressure on you
If you are experiencing stress as a result of any of these factors, you may be able to file a claim against your employer. Depending on the specific circumstances of the harm done to you, a case might be made under any number of different laws or regulations, so your next step would be to contact a qualified employment attorney for a review of your case.
Proving Your Nervous Breakdown in Court
When you make a claim against an employer or other negligent party for mental and emotional duress issues, it is crucial to document everything. Track all of your symptoms, journal all the ways your mental health crisis disrupts your day-to-day life, keep all medical records, and copy all communications between you and your employer. This can be an exhausting amount of homework for someone already suffering the effects of a mental health crisis, but it is necessary.
Because mental health injuries do not leave visible scars and cannot be verified through medical tests or x-rays, your documentation will be key to proving your injuries in court so that legal action can be taken. Your employment attorney can be an invaluable resource in keeping all of this information tracked and organized. They will also use it to build the best possible case against your employer or other responsible party.
To prove your emotional distress in a court of law, several factors need to be established through evidence and testimony. These include:
- The employer was aware of or was willfully unaware of, the conduct that caused your mental health crisis
- The employer knew that this conduct was unacceptable, illegal, or harmful
- Given the first two points, the employer failed to stop the harmful conduct or take the necessary steps to resolve the situation
Courts will require evidence to issue a favorable ruling on issues of emotional trauma. While this can be a daunting task when it comes to proving a largely invisible injury, you should not let that deter you from seeking justice. With the help of a qualified attorney and detailed record-keeping, you may be able to build a case that results in being awarded the resources you need to support yourself and your family while you heal from your nervous breakdown.
If you need help holding an employer accountable for your emotional injuries, California Employment Counsel is ready to help. We have in-depth experience dealing with courts and corporations and won’t stop fighting until your rights and livelihood are protected to the fullest extent of the law.