Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Catatonia is a mental health condition characterized by a range of symptoms, including reduced movement, communication difficulties, agitation, confusion, and restlessness. If left untreated, it can seriously hamper a person’s social relationships, career prospects, and daily functioning.

What is catatonia?

Catatonia is a complex neuropsychiatric syndrome 1 characterized by a range of motor and behavioral abnormalities. It is typically associated with various mental health disorders and can be considered a major symptom of these conditions.

Catatonia can occur in the context of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and other mental illnesses. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), catatonia is classified as a specifier for several mental health disorders 2.

Prevalence of catatonia

The global prevalence of catatonia is not precisely known, as it often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed. However, studies 3 suggest that catatonia is more common in certain populations, such as individuals with schizophrenia or mood disorders. It can affect people of all age groups, but it is more frequently observed in adults.

Symptoms of catatonia

The common 4 catatonia symptoms include:

  • Stupor: Profound unresponsiveness and immobility.
  • Catalepsy: Extended periods of rigid, fixed body posture.
  • Waxy Flexibility: Limbs can be easily positioned by others due to reduced resistance.
  • Mutism: Complete absence or severe reduction of speech.
  • Negativism: Oppositional behavior, doing the opposite of what is asked.
  • Posturing: Assuming unusual and prolonged body positions.
  • Mannerisms: Distinctive and repetitive individual behaviors or gestures.
  • Stereotypy: Repetitive, non-functional movements or actions.
  • Agitation: Restlessness, heightened motor activity, inability to sit still.
  • Grimacing: Involuntary or exaggerated facial expressions indicating discomfort.
  • Echolalia: Repeating or echoing words or phrases of others.
  • Echopraxia: Imitating or mimicking movements and gestures of others.

Types Of Catatonia

Catatonia can be classified into different types 5 based on its presentation 6 and underlying causes:

1. Classic catatonia

This refers to the typical presentation of catatonia, characterized by motor abnormalities such as immobility, posturing, and waxy flexibility.

2. Malignant catatonia

Malignant catatonia is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of catatonia. It is often associated with underlying medical conditions, such as neuroleptic malignant syndrome or certain infections. Symptoms may include high fever, autonomic dysfunction, delirium, and severe psychomotor disturbances.

3. Neuroleptic-induced catatonia

This type of catatonia is caused by the use of certain medications, particularly antipsychotic drugs. It can occur in individuals with or without a history of catatonia. Symptoms may arise shortly after starting or increasing the dosage of neuroleptic medications.

Catatonia can occur in the context of mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. It may manifest as severe psychomotor retardation, immobility, or excessive and purposeless motor activity.

5. Organic catatonia

Organic catatonia refers to catatonic symptoms resulting from an underlying medical condition or substance use. Causes may include metabolic disorders, brain injuries, infections, or intoxication with certain substances.

6. Withdrawal catatonia

This type of catatonia can be seen during withdrawal from substances such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. It is characterized by a range of catatonic symptoms, including motor immobility and psychomotor disturbances.

7. Excited catatonia

Excited or agitated catatonia is a subtype of catatonia characterized by pronounced psychomotor agitation, restlessness, and hyperactivity. Individuals with excited catatonia may exhibit purposeless, repetitive movements, increased impulsivity, and heightened arousal. 

8. Mixed catatonia

Mixed catatonia refers to a complex catatonic syndrome characterized by the presence of symptoms from both the excited and retarded types of catatonia. It involves a combination of motor abnormalities, such as agitation and hyperactivity, as well as features of stupor, immobility, or mutism.

What causes catatonia?

The common causes 7 of catatonia include:

  • Psychiatric disorders (like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder)
  • Neurological disorders, brain tumors, and autoimmune diseases
  • Substance use or withdrawal (related to alcohol, benzodiazepines, etc.)
  • Medications, especially neuroleptic medications
  • Genetic predisposition and a family history of catatonia
  • High levels of stress or traumatic experiences
  • Certain infections (like encephalitis and meningitis)
  • Electrolyte imbalances (related to low potassium or magnesium)
  • Brain injury or damage
  • Co-occurring medical conditions (like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, etc.)
  • Vulnerability in developmental periods such as during adolescence and young adulthood

Mental health impact of catatonia

Catatonia, as a symptom of an underlying mental health condition 8, negatively impacts a person’s mental health in several ways. These include:

  • Impaired daily functioning and reduced quality of life
  • Feelings of frustration, helplessness, and distress
  • Social isolation and difficulties in relationships
  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders
  • Negative impact on self-esteem and self-image
  • Cognitive difficulties, including attention and memory problems
  • Disruption of academic or occupational performance
  • Impaired decision-making and problem-solving abilities
  • Feelings of stigma and misunderstanding
  • Increased vulnerability to co-occurring conditions
  • Overall psychological distress and reduced well-being

Read More About Anxiety Here

Mental health disorders associated with catatonia

Catatonia can occur in individuals with mental health conditions 9 wherein the catatonic symptoms usually range from motor immobility to excessive motor activity, psychomotor retardation, and withdrawal. These mental health disorders include:

  • Schizophrenia [Read more]
  • Bipolar disorder (during manic or depressive episodes) [Read more]
  • Major depressive disorder [Read more]
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder [Read more]
  • Substance-induced catatonia (due to substance use or withdrawal)
  • Mood disorders with psychotic features [Read more]

Diagnosis of catatonia

The diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 are used to assess if the patient meets the criteria for catatonia as a specifier for a specific mental health disorder. Diagnosing catatonia 10 also involves a clinical assessment, including a detailed medical history and psychiatric evaluation, along with observation of symptoms and physical examination.

Laboratory tests may be conducted to assess underlying medical conditions and neuroimaging can be used to rule out organic causes.

Differential diagnosis with clinical tools [like the Bush-Francis Catatonia Rating Scale 11 (BFCRS)] is important to distinguish catatonia from other similar conditions. Expertise and clinical judgment are essential for an accurate and timely diagnosis as well as the formulation of an effective treatment plan.

Treatment for catatonia

The common approaches 7 in treatment for catatonia are tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the affected. These include:

1. Antipsychotic medications

In some cases, antipsychotic medications—such as risperidone, olanzapine, or Benzodiazepines—may be used cautiously to manage catatonia including alleviating symptoms and promoting relaxation. However, their use should be carefully monitored due to the risk of exacerbating symptoms or causing adverse effects.

2. NMDA receptor agonists

Medications that target N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, such as amantadine or memantine, have shown efficacy in treating catatonia, especially in cases associated with NMDA receptor dysfunction.

3. Physical therapy and occupational therapy

These therapies can be beneficial in improving motor function, mobility, and overall physical well-being in individuals with catatonia.

4. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

ECT is an effective treatment option for catatonia, particularly in cases where other treatments have been ineffective. It involves administering electrical currents to the brain to induce controlled seizures, leading to symptom improvement.

Overcoming catatonia

Consider the following measures 12 to address symptoms of catatonia:

  • Create a calm and structured environment, maintaining a routine and providing reassurance to help manage catatonic symptoms.
  • Encourage open communication and provide emotional support to the individual with catatonia, promoting their engagement and participation in treatment.
  • Educate yourself about catatonia to better understand its challenges and support your loved one effectively.
  • Collaborate with healthcare professionals and actively participate in the individual’s treatment plan, ensuring adherence to medications and therapy sessions.
  • Maintain a supportive and nurturing environment, fostering a sense of safety and trust for the individual with catatonia to aid in their recovery.
  • Be patient and understanding, as overcoming catatonia can be a gradual process requiring time and perseverance.
  • Seek additional resources and support, such as support groups or therapy for family members, to cope with the challenges associated with catatonia.


While many individuals respond well to the prescribed medications, in cases where there is a lack of response, alternative medications may be explored to effectively manage the symptoms of catatonia. However, studies have shown a high relapse rate, with symptoms potentially reoccurring within a year after treatment.

Therefore, regular communication with a healthcare professional is crucial to assess the individual’s response to treatment for catatonia and make any necessary adjustments to ensure optimal symptom management.

At a glance

  1. Catatonia is a complex psychomotor syndrome associated with life-threatening complications in patients with acute psychiatric illnesses.
  2. Catatonia symptoms include abnormal behavior, reduced movement, and impaired communication. 
  3. There are six types of catatonia.
  4. Catatonia can be caused by various factors, including comorbid psychiatric disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, brain abnormalities, and certain medical conditions such as cerebral folate deficiency, rare autoimmune disorders, and rare paraneoplastic disorders.
  5. Management typically involves long-term treatment for catatonia with medications and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as appropriate.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What Is catatonic depression?

Catatonic depression is a subtype of depression characterized by psychomotor disturbances and immobility.

2. What is malignant catatonia?

Malignant catatonia is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of catatonia associated with fever, autonomic dysfunction, and delirium.

3. How long does catatonia last?

The duration of catatonia symptoms can vary widely depending on the individual and underlying cause, ranging from days to months.

4. Is catatonia a negative symptom of schizophrenia?

Catatonia can be considered a negative symptom of schizophrenia, characterized by a decrease or absence of usual behaviors and emotions.

👇 References:
  1.  Burrow, J. P., Spurling, B. C., & Marwaha, R. (2023). Catatonia. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Available from: []
  2. Fink M. (2011). Catatonia from its creation to DSM-V: Considerations for ICD. Indian journal of psychiatry, 53(3), 214–217. []
  3.  Edinoff, A. N., Kaufman, S. E., Hollier, J. W., Virgen, C. G., Karam, C. A., Malone, G. W., Cornett, E. M., Kaye, A. M., & Kaye, A. D. (2021). Catatonia: Clinical Overview of the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Clinical Challenges. Neurology international, 13(4), 570–586. []
  4.  Bhati, M. T., Datto, C. J., & O’Reardon, J. P. (2007). Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and empirical treatments for catatonia. Psychiatry [Edgmont (Pa. : Township)], 4(3), 46–52. []
  5.  Ariza-Salamanca, D. F., Corrales-Hernández, M. G., Pachón-Londoño, M. J., & Hernández-Duarte, I. (2022). Molecular and cellular mechanisms leading to catatonia: an integrative approach from clinical and preclinical evidence. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 15, 993671. []
  6.  Wilcox, J. A., & Reid Duffy, P. (2015). The Syndrome of Catatonia. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 5(4), 576–588. []
  7.  Walther, S., Stegmayer, K., Wilson, J. E., & Heckers, S. (2019). Structure and neural mechanisms of catatonia. The lancet. Psychiatry, 6(7), 610–619. [][]
  8. Wilcox, J. A., & Reid Duffy, P. (2015). The Syndrome of Catatonia. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 5(4), 576–588. []
  9.  Novac, A. A., Bota, D., Witkowski, J., Lipiz, J., & Bota, R. G. (2014). Special medical conditions associated with catatonia in the internal medicine setting: hyponatremia-inducing psychosis and subsequent catatonia. The Permanente journal, 18(3), 78–81. []
  10.  Rasmussen, S. A., Mazurek, M. F., & Rosebush, P. I. (2016). Catatonia: Our current understanding of its diagnosis, treatment and pathophysiology. World journal of psychiatry, 6(4), 391–398. []
  11.  Kirkhart, R., Ahuja, N., Lee, J. W., Ramirez, J., Talbert, R., Faiz, K., Ungvari, G. S., Thomas, C., & Carroll, B. T. (2007). The detection and measurement of catatonia. Psychiatry [Edgmont (Pa. : Township)], 4(9), 52–56. []
  12.  Smith, S. L., Grelotti, D. J., Fils-Aime, R., Uwimana, E., Ndikubwimana, J. S., Therosme, T., Severe, J., Dushimiyimana, D., Uwamariya, C., Bienvenu, R., Alcindor, Y., Eustache, E., Raviola, G. J., & Fricchione, G. L. (2015). Catatonia in resource-limited settings: a case series and treatment protocol. General hospital psychiatry, 37(1), 89–93. []