Have you heard about “give-up-itis”? It’s not some made-up term but a real medical condition that is different from suicide or depression. Give-up-itis is a medical condition that occurs when a person loses their will to be alive which suddenly leads to death without any physical cause (1).
This condition was first discovered among American and South Korean soldiers who died for no apparent reason when they were captives at prisoner-of-war (PoW) camps. Studies show that Give-up-itis has been found among other POW camps survivors and people who’ve experienced traumatic events such as shipwreck, concentration camps, or plane crash (2). The main trigger for this disease happens in situations where someone feels hopeless with no means of escape.
While there are many people who have recovered from traumatic events and were able to live normal lives, victims of give-up-itis cannot seem to think beyond the painful moment. Some patients who recovered from this condition say that the only reason they survived was that someone helped them accept their reality which gave them a reason to want to live again (3).
Give-Up-Itis Isn’t Entirely New
Even though cases of this have been reported since the 1600s, only now are we beginning to understand it. Today, the most common group of people affected by give-up-itis is the elderly living in care homes and hospital patients with terminal conditions.
Dr. John Leach, who is a fellow at the University of Portsmouth and a major researcher on this topic says that give-up-itis does not have to be a death sentence (4). This is why Dr. Leach and his colleagues published a report (5) in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses that outlines all the stages of the condition so victims can be diagnosed and get the help they need.
The five phases of give-up-itis are:
1. Social withdrawal: It is normal for survivors of traumatic events to isolate themselves as they go through the pain and come to terms with reality. However, people with give-up-itis never recover and they are more pessimistic than usual.
2. Apathy: In this phase, the person begins to experience what Dr. Leach describes as demoralizing melancholy which is not the same as anger, sadness, or frustration. They become sluggish and unwilling to do anything. Some survivors of give-up-itis describe this stage as having a total loss of energy that makes doing simple tasks feel extremely difficult.
3. Aboulia: At this point, the victim becomes completely isolated and stops communicating with others. They will also refuse to eat or drink. The person will look as if they have no thought at all. In fact, the research describes this condition as empty mindedness or deadness of the conscience where the victim has no drive for goal-directed behavior.
4. Psychic Akinesia: The major symptom of this stage is that the patient becomes unresponsive to physical stimuli including severe pain such as burning or being hit. The victim might seem conscious, but they have lost all motivation to live and they are often found lying in their own waste.
5. Psychogenic Death: When the give-up-itis progresses to the final stage, the patient slowly disintegrates into death. Dr. Leach indicates that no amount of begging, pleading, or physical pain can help the victim at this point.
The paper suggests that the cause of give-up-itis may be linked to damage in the brain region known as anterior cingulate circuit (ACC) which is responsible for motivated action. Studies have also shown that when the dopamine signals in this brain region are disrupted, it produces apathetic behavior symptoms that resemble give-up-itis.