There has been a global rise in the number of patients describing feelings of emptiness in parallel with an increase in mental health problems.
The feeling of constant emptiness is associated with a range of mental health difficulties, however due to difficulties describing it, many fail to report it to their doctor.
In response to the rising figures, the two higher institutions created a definition of emptiness by carrying out initial research which studied the lived experiences of patients who reported these feelings.
The researchers collected hundreds of testimonies from people who said they felt empty in an attempt to capture the essence of this experience.
The participants described a sense of an inner void and a sense of detachment from other people and their environment, along with the inability to connect and to join in.
The researchers found that 79 per cent of the people who persistently felt empty had thought about suicide, with 27 per cent having attempted suicide at some point.
For participants who felt empty less often, 45 per cent had thought about suicide along with 8 per cent having attempted to take their own life.
The researchers found that this data suggests a significant link between the feeling of emptiness and suicidality.
Fabio Sani, professor of psychology at the University of Dundee, said: “Emptiness appears to be on the increase, but this raises several important questions because nobody knows exactly what the term means. We felt the simplest way of arriving at a definition was to ask people to provide detailed descriptions using their own words, analogies and metaphors.
“The link between feelings of intense emptiness and suicidal behaviour is extremely worrying, but it may also help us to identify those most likely to attempt suicide. It shows the importance of better understanding this commonly described feeling.
“An increasing number of people, with or without a psychiatric diagnosis, experience feelings of emptiness but this raises several questions. What exactly is emptiness? What does it mean to feel empty? The challenge for future research is to understand why emptiness is becoming so widespread, and how to tackle it clinically and socially. Addressing these questions successfully might save lives.”
Nine different aspects of emptiness were identified as part of the research which was used to produce a definition of the feeling of emptiness, participants in a second survey said the definition was highly accurate in explaining their feelings.
The research has been published in the Journal of Mental Health and can be read here.