People Really Do Die From Losing Their Will To Live: New Study Defines "Give-Up-Itis"

Survivors lie in multi-tiered bunks in a barracks in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Many later reported that their otherwise healthy friends and family members appeared to perish from hopelessness. This condition has now been given the name 'give-up-itis' or psychogenic death. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

Aliyah Kovner 27 Sep 2018, 21:37

As unscientific as it sounds, "give-up-itis" is a real term used to describe a medically documented yet poorly understood phenomenon wherein a person who has lost the will to live actually dies, despite no apparent physiological cause. The condition was first described in Americans and South Korean soldiers who perished in captivity at prisoner-of-war (PoW) camps during the Korean War, and was later applied to Vietnam War PoWs, shipwreck survivors, and retrospectively identified as a common occurrence in Nazi concentration camps based on the recollections of internment survivors.

The common thread of give-up-itis cases is that it onsets during a psychologically traumatic situation that feels inescapable. The sufferer responds to these seemingly hopeless conditions with increasingly extreme apathy; withdrawing from life around them to the point that they eventually exit the mortal coil entirely.

However, past observations show that death from give-up-itis is not inevitable. People have recovered from states identical to those that preceded death in others after someone or something convinced them to engage with reality once again.

After examining many historical and modern records, University of Portsmouth research fellow Dr John Leach concluded that give-up-itis may be more prevalent than previously thought: apparent cases have been noted as far back as the 1600s and recent case reports on the deaths of elderly people and hospital patients bear the condition’s hallmark features. Hoping to advance our comprehension of this bewildering condition, and therefore our ability to circumvent it, Leach set out to provide the first-ever description of its clinical markers. His paper, now published in Medical Hypotheses, defines a pattern of five phases give-up-itis follows and – as the forum’s name suggests – hypothesizes on the brain activity that underlies it.

"Psychogenic death is real. It isn't suicide, it isn't linked to depression, but the act of giving up on life and dying usually within days, is a very real condition often linked to severe trauma," Leach said in a statement, further explaining that people with give-up-itis appear to regard death as the best possible coping mechanism to the unbearable stresses of their situation.

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