About Catatonia and Catatonic Depression

Catatonic Depression pic
Catatonic Depression
Image: health.howstuffworks.com

Todd Belok serves as a mental health technician at the Episcopal campus of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. There, Todd Belok supports the daily care of patients with catatonia and other symptoms of severe mental illness.

Once defined as a single disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, catatonic depression now exists as a subset of depression with the features of catatonia. Those with the condition often suffer from the mood disturbances of depression as well as an intense mental stupor. Believed to stem from a disturbed balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, this stupor manifests with immobility as well as motor and speech disturbances.

Individuals with catatonia may stay very still for long periods of time. They may hold a particular pose for hours or may take the same length of time to perform a simple movement, such as sitting up from a reclining position. Some individuals with catatonia resist passive movement by another, while others will allow others to sculpt them like statues.

Some patients can and do move themselves, but their movements appear out of context to the situation. They may engage in stereotypical movements or simply do exactly what another person asks of them, or their movements may appear automatic. In some cases, patients reflexively grasp the hand of another person as an infant might.

Many cases of catatonia co-present with an absence of speech, while others feature repetitive, monotonous, or mimicked speech. Sometimes, the person can speak, though fear makes the individual unable to demonstrate this ability. These and other symptoms of catatonia often resolve with benziodiazepine treatment, antipsychotics, or another professionally administered psychiatric regimen.

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