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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2002 Dec;36(6):733-42.

Demoralization: its phenomenology and importance.

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Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry Research Unit, Department of Psychological Medicine, Monash University, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne, Australia.



Demoralization, as described by Jerome Frank, is experienced as a persistent inability to cope, together with associated feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, meaninglessness, subjective incompetence and diminished self-esteem. It is arguably the main reason people seek psychiatric treatment, yet is a concept largely ignored in psychiatry. The aim here is to review and summarize the literature pertaining to demoralization in order to examine the validity of the construct.


A narrative review of demoralization and the related concepts of hope, hopelessness, and meaning is presented, drawing on a range of empirical and observational studies in the medical and psychiatric literature.


An examination of the concepts of the 'Giving Up-Given Up' syndrome (George Engel), 'suffering' (Eric Cassell), and demoralization (Jerome Frank), demonstrate considerable convergence of ideas. Demoralization has been commonly observed in the medically and psychiatrically ill and is experienced as existential despair, hopelessness, helplessness, and loss of meaning and purpose in life. Although sharing symptoms of distress, demoralization is distinguished from depression by subjective incompetence in the former and anhedonia in the latter. Demoralization can occur in people who are depressed, cancer patients who are not depressed and those with schizophrenia. Hopelessness, the hallmark of demoralization, is associated with poor outcomes in physical and psychiatric illness, and importantly, with suicidal ideation and the wish to die.


Demoralization is an important construct with established descriptive and predictive validity. A place needs to be found for it in psychiatric nomenclature.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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