Your input is important—take a survey to help us make DBSAlliance.org better! Go!

 
  Order brochure
  Download brochure

Understanding Agitation

Agitation is a feeling of uneasiness typically accompanied by excessive talking or purposeless motions such as pacing or wringing the hands. This symptom is a special concern for many people who live with a mood disorder, as these individuals are more likely to experience an episode of agitation. Unlike depression and bipolar disorder, agitation isn’t an illness on its own. Rather, it’s typically a symptom of a mood disorder or another medical condition.

Agitation can be triggered in individuals when the treatment for their mood disorder is not working as well as it should. Stress or traumatic events can also trigger agitation. While it is a distressing experience, many people are able to manage and prevent the escalation of an agitation episode by educating themselves about the signs of agitation and developing a plan for when these signs appear.

The Spectrum of Agitation

In addition to feelings of unease, excessive talking, and unintentional motions such as wringing of the hands or pacing, mild to moderate signs of agitation may include:

  • Picking or pulling at hair, skin, or clothing
  • Unconscious movement
  • Outbursts
  • Shuffling feet
  • Clenching fists

As an episode of agitation escalates, the person may begin to show:

  • Excitement
  • Hostility
  • Poor impulse control
  • Tension
  • Uncooperativeness
  • Violent/disruptive behavior

Agitation is experienced on a spectrum, so not everyone experiencing agitation will express all of these characteristics. It is especially important to note that agitation does not always lead to violence. Often, agitation goes hand in hand with anxiety or aggressive behavior, but doctors usually use agitation to describe only unintentional and purposeless behaviors that result from feelings of inner restlessness.

Treatments

Treatment of agitation often involves treating the underlying condition such as depression, bipolar disorder, or another medical issue. Early intervention is often the most effective, which is why it is so important to understand and look for the signs of an agitation episode before it escalates.

Verbal de-escalation is a technique in which healthcare professionals talk a person down from an agitated state. The goal in verbal de-escalation is to help the person regain control so that he or she can better communicate needs with health care providers. Fast-acting medications may also be used temporarily for more severe episodes of agitation.

Many people use a multi-faceted, personalized treatment plan which often includes medication and counseling or talk therapy, peer support, and personal wellness strategies. Having a plan in place will help a person maintain a sense of empowerment and control that can stop agitation before it starts.

Further Information

DBSA created the Understanding Agitation program to shed light on this commonly misunderstood symptom and promote compassionate, effective treatments. Below are links to help you learn more about what agitation looks and feels like, how family and friends can help, and helpful treatment and prevention strategies.

Understanding Agitation Video Series

 

Understanding Agitation Webinar


For Clinicians: If you are a healthcare provider, we developed the Understanding Agitation Kit which contains special tools for you in recognizing and treating patients who are experiencing agitation. 


Production of the DBSA Understanding Agitation video series was supported by a contribution from Teva.