In the past, catatonia used to be a specific mental disorder, but nowadays this is not the case. Someone with catatonic depression suffers from the symptoms of major depressive disorder with catatonic features. A catatonic feature could be impairment. Suffering from catatonic impairment means that you have trouble controlling voluntary movements. People diagnosed with depression with catatonic features may have difficulty completing simple tasks, such as sitting up in bed, or leaving the bed. Performing daily tasks can be very challenging for them, if not impossible. Having a normal day to day conversation may be very difficult as well.
Catatonic depression symptoms are usually associated with Bipolar disorder, because some symptoms of catatonic depression are common during a Manic episode and others are common during a depressive episode. Bipolar disorder is characterized by both manic and depressive episodes. This disorder is also associated with PTSD, schizophrenia, and of course depression. As mentioned before, less than 1% of the normal population suffers from depression with catatonic features (only 5 to 9% of the psychiatric population suffers this disorder and only 10% of the normal population suffers a psychiatric disorder: 5 to 9% of 10% is less than 1%).
In addition to the symptoms of major depressive disorder, people with catatonic depression may also experience the following catatonic depression symptoms:
Although the exact cause is unknown, experts believe that an imbalance of neurotransmitters (dopamine, GABA and glutamate) in the brain may at least partially cause this type of depression. An imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain usually affects behaviour.
Other experts say it might be the result of an excessive fear response. When there is danger people respond in 3 ways: they Fight, Flee or Freeze. Catatonia is associated with an excessive Freeze response. As a result of this Freeze response all emotions and movements are switched off or temporarily frozen. In nature you see this response a lot in animals and insects. If you approach a spider its first response is to sit still hoping you won’t notice it.
There are two ways to treat catatonic depression.
*Bush, G., Fink, M., Petrides, G., e.a. (1996b). Catatonia. II. Treatment with lorazepam and electro-convulsive therapy. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 93, 137-143.
*Lee, J.W., Schwartz, D.L., & Hallmayer, J. (2000). Catatonia in a psychiatric intensive care facility: incidence and response to benzodiazepines. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 12, 89-96.
*Ungvari, G.S., Leung, C.M., Wong, M.K., e.a. (1994). Benzodiazepines in the treatment of catatonic syndrome. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 89, 285-288.