Giving Up on Life Can Lead to Actual Death in Less Than A Month by C. Purdy
By Emma Betuel
on September 28, 2018
…..Segal, eventually termed this syndrome “give-up-itis.” John Leach Ph.D., a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Portsmouth in England and a former military psychologist typically calls it “psychogenic death” but admits that “give-up-itis” is bitingly accurate:
“Basically it’s a horrible term” Leach tells Inverse. “But it’s a descriptive term. There were always those people who just gave up — curled up, laid down and died. In many cases these were otherwise healthy men and women, and the thing that stood out was that their death was basically inexplicable. But it appears that there’s an underlying organic cause for it.”
Leach recently released a paper that suggests a potential explanation for what goes on in our brains when we cascade into life-threatening hopelessness. Though this disease might look like depression at the outset, Leach says, but he thinks that there’s actually a separate brain mechanism behind it — making it an entirely different condition.
The Feeling of No Escape
Leach has yet to test his hypothesis with clinical trials or brain scans, so his analysis rests upon finding commonality between historical accounts, interviews with survivors of traumatic events (prisoners of war, plane-crash survivors etc.), andpsychological diagnoses.
Together, he suggests that give-up-itis is a dangerous manifestation of the brain’s survival instinct gone awry.
Leach explains that that low production of dopamine is likely responsible for the progression of symptoms that he noticed while combing through tales of atrocities from Korea to early British colonies at Jamestown. His paper suggests that as levels of dopamine drop patients would present with five stages of symptoms.
First, patients tend to withdraw from peers —like the soldiers in Korean POW camps who “remained supine within the confines of their prison hut” according to Segal’s report.
Then came apathy, or an an unwillingness to bathe or get dressed — which he noticed in the stories of many concentration camp survivors during World War II in addition to the Korea accounts.
The third step in Leach’s model actually already has a clinical name, aboulia, described as a clinical absence of willpower or the inability to act decisively.
Other papers, in addition to Leach’s indicate that this is sometimes followed by akenesia, a syndrome usually seen in advanced Parkinson’s patients who eventually lose the ability to move voluntarily.
Leach has based these five categories off of historical case studies, and observations from a series of papers that have linked them to dopamine disregulation in the brain. But where his model is different is that he groups them together as the progression of a single syndrome, give-up-itis.
Snippets from the page:
It’s a dark area of psychology, exploring death’s grip on a person who feels totally defeated by life. But as scientists learn more about the phenomenon, they’re finding it impacts people in five distinct stages.
The clinical name for this is psychogenic death. And if left untreated, a new study in the journal Medical Hypothesis shows, the five stages can run their course in as little as three weeks.
“Psychogenic death is real,” says University of Portsmouth researcher John Leach in a related statement. “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.”
….Once the malfunction occurs, Leach explains, five distinct stages typically precede death:
[stage 3] … Aboulia. This is the stage where physical activity starts to drop off. A person might stop cleaning themselves or even speaking to others. They withdraw even deeper into themselves.
People who have recovered from this stage have described feeling as though their mind was made of mush. Essentially, the brain switches to standby mode and a person loses any motivation whatsoever.
[stage 5] …. Psychogenic death. This final stage is marked by the disintegration of a person. As described by Leach, “It’s when someone then gives up. They might be lying in their own excreta and nothing—no warning, no beating, no pleading can make them want to live.” In some cases the time between stage four and five can be as little as three or four days.