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Catatonic Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

catatonic schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented mental disorders. Many people assume it looks a certain way, but that is not always the case. In truth, schizophrenia can take on several distinct forms, including paranoid, disorganized, and catatonic schizophrenia.

By learning about the many shapes of schizophrenia, more people can understand when and how to get treatment. And  raising awareness about schizophrenia supports the elimination of social stigma. For these reasons, it is important to discuss topics like this so more people feel comfortable seeking the help they need.

What is Catatonic Schizophrenia?

What Is Catatonic Schizophrenia?

Catatonic schizophrenia is a subtype of schizophrenia primarily characterized by periods of immobility and unresponsiveness. Also known as catatonic states or catatonia, these episodes make it difficult or impossible to communicate and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

During this time, someone may be unable to take care of their own needs. Catatonia inhibits someone’s overall awareness and ability to react to what goes on around them. They may pace or sit completely still for hours at a time, even neglecting necessities like hunger, sleep, and hygiene.

Other symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia include:

  • Agitation
  • Stupor (consciousness marked by a lack of response to any stimuli)
  • Posturing (holding limbs up against gravity)
  • Stereotypy (repetitive movements)
  • Mutism (not talking)
  • Staring
  • Echolalia (repeating words or sounds made by someone else)
  • Echopraxia (repeating behaviors or movements made by someone else)

Another important factor to keep in mind is that catatonic schizophrenia is no longer recognized as a distinct mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Instead, its symptoms are linked to a separate syndrome called catatonia. When catatonia occurs in those who also have schizophrenia, it is essentially catatonic schizophrenia.

What Causes Catatonic Schizophrenia?

The exact causes leading to catatonic schizophrenia are currently unknown. However, researchers dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, and pathophysiology of schizophrenia have uncovered numerous possibilities and risk factors that contribute to its prevalence.

One potential explanation involves the balance between neurotransmitters in the brain. Specifically, some studies indicate that an imbalance between two neurotransmitters called dopamine and serotonin may be linked to cases of schizophrenia.

Other risk factors for catatonic schizophrenia include:

  • Genetics
  • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Pregnancy/birth complications
  • Differences in brain development
  • External stressors, such as living in poverty or a dangerous environment

As mentioned previously, current data has not identified a direct cause for catatonic schizophrenia. However, by raising awareness about its symptoms and main risk factors, more people can identify the signs and get help.

Effective Treatment for Catatonic Schizophrenia

As a chronic mental disorder, schizophrenia currently does not have a cure in the traditional sense. However, that does not mean there is no way to get help for it. With effective treatment, people with schizophrenia can learn to manage their symptoms and lead a stable, functioning life.

Unfortunately, most individuals with catatonic schizophrenia do not attain the support they need. In fact, only around 30 percent of people with psychosis (one of the flagship symptoms of schizophrenia) receive specialized mental health care.

The reasons for this vary but often include the social stigma surrounding schizophrenia. Many people assume it is an untreatable condition, while others feel ashamed about their symptoms or worry that their loved ones will begin to act differently around them.

There is no shame in seeking professional help for catatonic schizophrenia. Ignoring symptoms and avoiding external support can ultimately worsen catatonia and cause someone’s quality of life to deteriorate. That said, it does not have to be that way; schizophrenia is manageable with the proper support in place. Below, we will discuss what that looks like in practice.

Therapy

One popular treatment method for catatonic schizophrenia involves psychotherapy, otherwise known as talk therapy. Therapy has been a part of mental health treatment for a very long time. It can help people with a broad range of behavioral and cognitive issues, including schizophrenia.

For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can benefit those with schizophrenia. CBT revolves around the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. It helps patients identify harmful beliefs and change them by altering their correlated behaviors. For those with schizophrenia, this can include learning to challenge the reality of their distorted thoughts.

Some individuals with catatonic schizophrenia may also benefit from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), in which small electrical currents are administered to parts of the brain. These miniscule shocks do not hurt, but they do trigger specific neural pathways in a way that helps them function correctly moving forward.

Talk therapy can play a role in the treatment of catatonic schizophrenia in many different ways. It can help someone identify their unhealthy thought patterns or behaviors, process past trauma, and learn how to openly communicate with others.

What works for one person may not work for everyone else. Thankfully, several types of psychotherapy exist. With time and patience, someone can discover the therapeutic approaches that work best for them.

Medication

Medication

Another common option used to treat schizophrenia is medication. Specifically, benzodiazepines (or benzos) are considered the first-line treatment option for catatonic schizophrenia.

Benzos are effective at soothing symptoms of schizophrenia due to their calming effect. They are frequently used to treat anxiety, which often appears as another symptom during schizophrenic episodes. Benzos accomplish this by blocking certain types of stress activation in the brain.

As with other medications, individuals who take benzodiazepines may experience any number of adverse side effects, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Memory issues
  • Slurred speech
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

Furthermore, benzodiazepines have been found to be particularly effective in the treatment of catatonic schizophrenia. They may soothe motor disturbances and help individuals through catatonic states. For this reason, they are a very popular choice for those who regularly experience catatonia.

Inpatient Treatment

Some people with catatonic schizophrenia benefit from having a comprehensive treatment plan put together for them. Medication and therapy are both effective treatment options independently, but for more severe cases, an inpatient treatment program may provide the most substantial level of care.

During inpatient treatment, patients live on-site in a comfortable, retreat-like atmosphere. Our individualized treatment plans bring a sense of structure and routine to their lives. They spend all day immersed in the recovery mindset, participating in a variety of therapeutic activities that teach vital coping skills. These lessons go on to help them live full lives alongside their catatonic schizophrenia.

In addition to medication management and individual psychotherapies, other treatment modalities utilized at Port St. Lucie Hospital include:

  • Crisis evaluation
  • Cognitive assessments
  • Group therapy
  • Family education
  • Supplemental therapies
  • Links to community resources

In the event of a severe episode of acute catatonia, someone may also consider crisis care services. Crisis programs receive patients in extreme distress who pose a risk to themselves or others. Generally, these services involve a crisis intervention team that works to identify the source of someone’s pain and stabilize them as quickly as possible.

Once a crisis has been successfully de-escalated, a patient may either return home or choose to seek further inpatient treatment, as outlined above. Crisis care may resolve acute mental health crises, but in the case of catatonic schizophrenia, someone may also need additional care of this variety to learn the best coping mechanisms.

Mental Health Care in Port St. Lucie, Florida

If you battle catatonic schizophrenia, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on your life. To experience some of the above treatment options for yourself, reach out to Port St. Lucie Hospital today.

We are a mental health treatment center that offers a variety of evidence-based treatment programs to suit a wide range of patient needs. People with depressive disorders, substance use issues, mood disorders, personality disorders, and more can all find the support they need at our facility.

To learn more about what we can do to help people with catatonic schizophrenia, call our admissions team at 772-408-5871. If you need more time to organize your thoughts and questions, you may also submit a confidential contact form online. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you in every way we can.

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