Science

Trauma can lead to death from ‘give-up-itis', study finds

John Leach from the University of Portsmouth said his study showed ‘give-up-itis' was a genuine medical condition.

People can die simply because they have given up on life, according to research.

John Leach, a senior research fellow at the University of Portsmouth, said his study showed “give-up-itis” was a genuine medical condition.

He said it usually occurred after a person had suffered a trauma and believed there was no escape, with death being the “only rational outcome”.

He said if the condition was not overcome then death normally occurred three weeks after the first stage of withdrawal.

Dr Leach said: “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.”

He added that his study, published in Medical Hypotheses, suggested that give-up-itis could stem from a change in a frontal-subcortical circuit of the brain governing how a person maintains goal-directed
behaviour.

He said: “Severe trauma might trigger some people’s anterior cingulate circuit to malfunction. Motivation is essential for coping with life and if that fails, apathy is almost inevitable.”

Dr Leach said the most common interventions were physical activity and/or a person being able to see a situation was at least partially within their control, both of which trigger the release of the feelgood chemical dopamine.

He said: “Reversing the give-up-itis slide towards death tends to come when a survivor finds or recovers a sense of choice, of having some control, and tends to be accompanied by that person licking
their wounds and taking a renewed interest in life.”

Dr Leach said the stages of give-up-itis were social withdrawal, apathy, lack of motivation, lack of pain response and psychogenic death, which he described as “disintegration of the person”.

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