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Catatonic Depression

Characteristics of Catatonic Depression

A person given the diagnosis of major depression with catatonic features means he or she has not only been suffering from the symptoms of major depression for at least two weeks, as we previously reviewed, but is also suffering some degree of catatonic impairment.

Catatonia is tricky. It's a problem with psychomotor activity, which means a person suffering from catatonic impairment is having trouble controlling their voluntary movements. Alone, it's not its own diagnosis -- there's something else going on. Catatonia is most commonly associated with some mental illnesses, most often depression, mania and other mood disorders, but the condition is also a sub-type of schizophrenia, a psychotic illness. The risk of finding yourself in a catatonic state also increases if you suffer from some relatively common diseases and infections including HIV and other viral infections, heat stroke, Parkinson's disease and autoimmune diseases. Drug withdrawals or interactions may also cause catatonic symptoms in some people [source: Taylor].

When we think of someone in a catatonic state, what comes to mind? A person unable to move, speak or respond to external stimulation is a common picture of catatonia, and is likely what most of us imagine when we hear someone is catatonic. The "with catatonic features" specifier means more than the clinical observation that a person is suffering from a catatonic stupor and mutism, though, although those are two common symptoms.

A person suffering from psychomotor problems might also have symptoms that include catalepsy (a prolonged immobile, unresponsive state), waxy flexibility (a person is immobile but can be repositioned), negativism, echolalia (involuntary mimicking of another person's speech) and echopraxia (involuntary mimicking of another person's movements). Sometimes catatonic individuals have odd voluntary movements (such as holding awkward poses for extended periods of time), repetitive movements or excited and excessive yet completely purposeless movements.

A person suffering from depression who develops at least two of these symptoms of catatonia might be diagnosed with catatonic depression. Just like depression itself, catatonic depression is treatable. One of the more successful treatments for major depression with catatonic features once had a bad reputation. Can you guess what it is?