People can die simply because they have given up on life – and it can happen within days, according to research.
Dr John Leach, from Portsmouth University, said his study showed ‘give-up-itis’ – or psychogenic death – is a real medical condition.
His research found people can pass away in as little as three days after a traumatic life event, if they believe they cannot overcome it.
Give-up-itis was coined during the Korean war, when prisoners would stop speaking, lose the will to eat and perish within days.
Dr Leach believes when a person feels beaten by life it changes the activity in the region of the brain that motivates them to take care of themselves.
Commenting on his study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, he 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.’
As part of his research, he has unveiled the five stages of the condition and explained how patients progress over a matter of weeks.
It starts with social withdrawal, Dr Leach revealed, before they quickly lose interest in even looking after themselves.
The third step is the inability to take initiative or make decisions, and the fourth can see patients become incontinent and lie in their own waste.
Psychogenic death is the fifth stage and is described as someone totally losing the will to live.
Give-up-itis could stem from a change in a frontal-subcortical circuit of the brain that governs how a person maintains goal-directed behaviour.
Dr Leach 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 are physical activity and/or a person being able to see a situation is at least partially within their control.
He said both of which can trigger the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine.
Dr Leach added: ‘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.’
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