Signs and symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia fall into several categories of catatonic behaviors, including:

  • Physical immobility. You may be completely unable to move or speak, or you may stare, hold your body in a rigid position and seem to be unaware of your surroundings (catatonic stupor). You may also have a form of immobility known as waxy flexibility; for example, if your arm is moved into a certain position, it will stay in that position for hours.
  • Excessive mobility. Rather than being unable to move, you may move in an excited manner that appears to have no purpose. You may pace in a frenzy, turn in circles, flail your arms or make loud noises.
  • Extreme resistance. You may not respond to instructions, may resist any attempt to be moved or may not speak at all.
  • Peculiar movements. You may have inappropriate or unusual postures, grimace for long periods or use strange mannerisms. You may also mechanically repeat certain behaviors (stereotyped behaviors), such as repeating words, obsessively following a routine or always arranging objects exactly the same way.
  • Mimicking speech or movement. You may repeatedly say a word just spoken by someone else (echolalia) or repeatedly copy a gesture or movement made by someone else (echopraxia).

Although you may appear to be without emotion during a catatonic episode, you may actually feel extreme anxiety.

Other signs and symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia

Although the main symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia are catatonic behaviors, you may also have some of the other common signs and symptoms of schizophrenia, such as:

  • Having beliefs not based on reality (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that don't exist (hallucinations), especially voices
  • Incoherent speech
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Apparent lack of emotions
  • Emotions inappropriate to the situation
  • Angry outbursts
  • Trouble functioning at school or work
  • Social isolation
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated movements

Catatonic episodes are likely to last at least a day and may last for longer than 30 days without effective treatment.

When to see a doctor

If you have any symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia, you may not be able to seek medical help on your own. And during periods when your symptoms subside, you may not believe you need treatment. Family and friends, or people at work or school, may suggest you seek help. In some cases, you may be taken to the hospital by emergency personnel.

If you're not ready to seek treatment, try to work up the courage to confide in someone, whether it's a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader or someone else you trust. He or she can help you take the first steps to successful treatment.

Helping someone who may have catatonic schizophrenia

If you have a loved one you think may have symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional help, but you can offer encouragement and support and help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider.

If your loved one poses a danger to himself or herself or to someone else, you may need to call the police or other emergency responders for help. In some cases, emergency hospitalization may be needed. Laws on involuntary commitment for mental health treatment vary by state.

Dec. 17, 2010