Jarvis Cocker health: Star on the ‘traumatic’ effects of nervous breakdown – warning signs

The One Show: Amol cuts off Jarvis Cocker during interview

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The Pulp frontman’s breakdown has been said to have been triggered by his most memorable moment. During a Michael Jackson performance at the 1996 Brit awards, Cocker trespassed the stage, in what was seen as a protest. Although some saw the act as “heroic” with calls for the star to be knighted, Cocker himself revealed that the incident had left a “toxic effect” on his life, and “doesn’t really like” to talk about the event at all. What followed was a “disease” that left the musician unable to go outside and suffering from extreme anxiety and delusional thoughts.

Speaking more about his mental struggle back in 2021, Cocker said that he had been approached by a young member of the New Labour movement asking for his endorsement, but soon this brief involvement with politics would lead to what he refers to as a “severely traumatic part of [his] life”.

Cocker explained that towards the end 1996 he had gone to New York, but when the telephone rang in his hotel room he assumed it had been bugged.

Feeling “alone and anxious” in the American city around Christmas time, Cocker was unable to face the crowds that took to the streets to celebrate the holidays, but also struggled to stay inside his hotel room too.

“I was in a fragile state of mind,” he continued to say, before remembering exact details about the decor of his hotel room that he was being “tormented” by at the time.

Describing the room he said: “Super designed, with a giant picture of a Vermeer painting, a woman pouring some milk out of a blue jug. You walked into an art installation.”

The term “nervous breakdown” is not formally recognised by medical bodies like the NHS, but according to statistics provided by Mind, a mental health charity, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression in any given week in England.

A nervous breakdown is therefore interpreted slightly differently by all, but it is generally understood to mean a crisis situation when someone has reached “rock bottom”. This leaves them unable to function in everyday life and causes disruption to not only them but those around them.

Unlike depression or anxiety, there is no single list of symptoms that can distinguish that someone is having a nervous breakdown, but a few years ago, Dr David Bell, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at the Tavistock Centre, said the following:

“Breakdown is a general term that people use to describe a very, very wide variety of experiences,” before going on to say that the term is “appropriate” as it “captures something of the experience”.

According to Dr Philip Timms, a consultant psychiatrist with the South London and Maudsley Trust, the most common type of breakdown is someone developing moderately severe depression, normally over a period of weeks.

This can lead to an individual feeling “more on edge, finding it more difficult to sleep, finding themselves thinking more negatively about themselves, feeling increasingly hopeless and incompetent about what they’re doing”.

From this description it can be suggested that a breakdown occurs when and if a depressive episode is not dealt with. The “build-up” of symptoms is part of the process of reaching rock bottom.

Depression can occur due to a range of things, sometimes this is a life-changing trigger such as a bereavement or losing a job. For others, a family history can put them more at risk of developing depression or the condition can develop for no obvious reason whatsoever.

There are also different types of depression that can strike at different times of year, or during specific times in an individual’s life. These include the following:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that occurs at a particular time of year, or during a particular season. See our page on SAD for more information
  • Dysthymia – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. Also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression
  • Prenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy. This is sometimes also called antenatal depression
  • Postnatal depression (PND) – depression that occurs in the first year after giving birth.

Symptoms of depression will differ for every individual, particularly if they suffer from a specific depression disorder, but the most common symptoms that can help someone decipher if they are suffering from depression or not can include feeling agitated, irritable or restless for long periods of time and avoiding social events that they usually enjoy.

If you feel that you’re experiencing a nervous breakdown, it is important to seek medical help, who will then be able to advise you on the best course of treatment.

The main treatments for depression can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medicine. For example, if suffering from mild depression, a doctor may suggest exercise classes or attending self-help groups. But for those with more severe depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help them to work through negative thought processes.

Psychotherapist Gael Lindenfield and stress specialist Dr Malcolm Vandenburg identify the early warning signs of immobilising stress, which could be used to identify when individuals are going into a so-called nervous breakdown. These early warning signs include physical changes:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Back pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Disrupted menstrual cycle

Certain emotional changes:

  • Worrying all of the time
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Guilt
  • Confusion

And finally, behavioural changes:

  • Mood swings
  • Temper loss
  • Inability to tolerate noise
  • Withdrawal from normal life.

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