Catatonic Reactions To Stress


Asked by Mattsmom

Catatonic Reactions To Stress

Is a catatonic-like state of staring and not communicating a typical bipolar person's response to extreme stress, or has anyone experienced this as a result of medications? My son will be talking and laughing with the family, but if one of us brings up his custody battle (a horribly stressful, ongoing topic), he stares into space and does not talk, sometimes for 3-5 minutes. He responds if you speak to him, but not right away, and is very agitated when he DOES communicate. Is this a function of being bipolar, one of his medications (Tegretol, Halperidol, Wellbutrin, Adderall), or simply a brain overload?


Hi, Matt's mom. I can't speak directly about your son, but as a general observation:

People are known to "disassociate" in response to stress or unstressful events that bring up traumatic memories. Victims of various forms of abuse or survivors of some kind of traumatic event are particularly vulnerable.

Disassociating is somewhat akin to an out of body (or out of mind) experience. There is simply too much stress for the mind to handle. The usual bipolar response is to flip out - to get angry, manic, or anxious or depressed. But in some people the mind reacts by bolting from the scene.

In extreme situations, the mind snaps into a complete personal identity change - say, an adult suddenly become a little kid.

Your son may be experience a much milder version of disassociating, but he is under extreme durress just the same. Your immediate response is to "not go there" in conversations. It is a trigger. The topic is too much for him to handle.

You may want to suggest that he get counseling and to talk to an MD about an anxiety med, perhaps on as as-needed basis.

Also, if the conversation is too much for him to handle, it is highly permissible for your son to bolt from the room. Better he physically removes himself from the stress - even if it seems rude - than wait for his mind to take leave.

Answered by John McManamy