Telehealth available in Idaho, Utah, and Oregon. Covered by most major insurances.

People Mysteriously Frozen by Catatonia Surprisingly Think, Too


People Mysteriously Frozen by Catatonia Surprisingly Think, Too


Catatonia is a rare neuropsychiatric condition in which the patient experiences problems with moving and talking. In many instances, the patient completely freezes and cannot speak or change position for hours. 

Occasionally, the freeze can last up to days, weeks, or even years.

So, what first comes to mind is, do people mysteriously frozen by catatonia think through it all? Is there any thought running through their minds even as they lay there unflinching?

Anybody's first guess would be NO. For a person who stays frozen for hours, it's easy to believe they're unconscious throughout the episode. But recent research says the exact opposite.

Research in recent times shows that people mysteriously frozen by catatonia do have thoughts. These individuals often say they experience intense anxiety and sometimes feel overwhelmed by the feelings. So, perhaps, it could be that they have too many thoughts at once, which sort of paralyzes them.

Now the new question is, what could these thoughts be?


A Look into the Minds of People with Catatonia

To get a clearer grasp, some researchers have carried out a new study by looking into several past case notes of catatonia patients. Interestingly, they discovered that some have spoken about what they felt or were thinking at that very moment. Others didn't remember a jot of what had happened. They didn't even know where they were. But those that did, of course, stood out.

Some of these conscious ones stated that they experienced overwhelming fear, while some were very much aware of the pain of staying motionless for so long.

But even more interesting was that some of these patients had extremely lucid and rational explanations for going frigid.

One of them had kneeled with his forehead against the floor. When asked why he took that position, he claimed it was an attempt to save his own life as he felt his head was about to fall off.

Of course, when you think about it, it's not insensible to prevent your head from falling by holding it in place against the floor.

Others had claimed they heard voices compelling them to take certain positions. One stated that the voice told him his head would explode if he moved. For some, it was a heavenly being giving divine instructions.


A Primal Instinct?

Obviously, catatonia is a highly mysterious mental illness and neurological disorder. Patients' experiences are beyond bizarre. But is the symptom entirely unprecedented? Of course, not!

Catatonia is pretty similar to the "death feint," a defense mechanism some animals exhibit. They go completely still to avoid being seen and attacked by a predator.

Fundamentally, it's about avoiding death or a physical catastrophe, such as "having your head explode or fall off," as some patients said.

In short, one patient in the study claimed to have seen a snake. Perhaps, her body went into shock -- or a "death feint" --because of that.

For now, we cannot say for certain.

But one thing's for sure; the possibilities are endless. And as long as we can gain a substantial understanding of what people battling catatonia are experiencing, we can at least offer them compassion.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Depression and gut bacteria: how gut health affects your mood

Researchers have recently discovered how gut health can impact mental health. There is an intestinal immune cell that impacts the gut microbiota (total microorganism in the gut), which consequently affects brain functions associated with stress-induced beh

Children's mental health is declining: here's why

A new study suggests that the rise in mental health problems in school-aged children and teens is associated with a decline in opportunities for them to engage in independent play unsupervised by adults.

New Blood Test for Detecting Anxiety Discovered

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have developed a new blood test that can objectively determine a person's risk for developing anxiety, the severity of their current anxiety, and which therapies would work best for them.