Stacey J. Miller

The Mystery and Miracle of Catatonia

Dr. Edward Shorter and Dr. Max Fink


Randolph, MA -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/10/2018 --Catatonia is a fairly common brain disorder, but few people understand what it means. Approximately 10 percent of patients in psychiatric intensive care facilities and in many medical units have catatonia. The condition is both treatable and reversible. Within 2 - 4 days of a diagnosis and proper treatment, three-quarters of patients have a full remission.

Dr. Edward Shorter and Dr. Max Fink, coauthors of "The Madness of Fear: A History of Catatonia" (Oxford University Press, 2018), point out that catatonia is a behavior syndrome of movement and mood, classically marked by stupor, mutism, posturing, rigidity, and repetitive speech and acts. The attacks often come suddenly.

For almost a century, catatonia was buried in the poorly designated psychiatric concept of schizophrenia. Its symptoms, which can include accelerating temperatures and refusal to drink, have led to death.

Yet, when recognized, patients are successfully treated and are returned to their community. Most of the time, they do not have residual symptoms and do not relapse. "It is a kind of miracle," say Shorter and Fink. "Even patients who have been in long-term catatonic stupors can go on to have new lives."

Clinicians can make these patients better on a reliable basis. There are few other diseases in psychiatry of which this is true.

So why has there been so little psychiatric interest in catatonia? In The Madness of Fear, Drs. Shorter and Fink seek to understand why this "vast field of ignorance" exists. In the history of catatonia, they see a remarkable story about how medicine flounders, and then seems to find its way. And it will help doctors, and the public recognize and successfully treat this core illness in psychiatry.

The Madness of Fear:
A History of Catatonia
By Edward Shorter and Max Fink
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-088119-1