The articles around the international press about millennials being the burnout generation keep multiplying. The pandemic is not helping with our mental health either. Depression is also on the rise. But is there a link between depression and burnout?
Symptoms of Burnout & Depression
Burnout symptoms include extreme exhaustion, feeling down, and reduced performance. Depression is also characterized by extreme exhaustion, feeling down, and reduced performance, among other symptoms. So yes, there seems to be an overlap between both mental health issues. Burnout and depression are both characterized by the presence of negative emotions and the absence of positive ones. They both include the same or very similar physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. And, most importantly, both require treatment, especially when the problems have been present for some time.
Burnout vs Depression: 3 Research Findings
Studies have revealed that burnout and depression seem to be linked. For example, a research study discovered that 90% of French school teachers with burnout also met the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. Another study of 1000 Swedish women with high burnout symptoms found that they also met threshold scores for depression. Similarly, 53 Finnish workers suffering from severe burnout also met criteria for depression in another study. Therefore, it seems that research supports the notion that there is an overlap between burnout and depression. This means that an individual with burnout may look, act, and seem depressed. A person with severe burnout – a person that has been mentally exhausted for a long time due to being exposed to a work environment characterized by danger, disappointment, or lack of control – may also be depressed.
Burnout, Depression and… Stigma?
So, why do we call it depression or burnout? Is burnout just another name for depression? First of all, clinicians started describing this set of symptoms as burnout because they seem to be initially caused by work-related struggles and heavy workload. At least it appears to start like that, but the problems might expand into other life domains.
Also, it seems easier and less taboo to talk about burnout than to talk about depression. It can be hard to admit depression, while burnout has become a more socially accepted term.
You might be wondering why burnout is more socially accepted than depression, and why people find it easier to say that they suffer from burnout than depression. The word burnout kind of puts the responsibility on the workplace or workload. While, when people hear that somebody has depression, society tends to blame the person and automatically believe that it is only their fault; that there is something wrong with them. In other words, while the word burnout implies that it is the workplace’s responsibility due to high workload, people interpret depression as the person's responsibility and see it as a weakness. It is crucial to fight this mental health stigma and start calling things by their correct name – without making false assumptions of responsibility or judging others by their difficulties with coping. Only this way can we foster a healthier society and effectively support those struggling.
Is Burnout Another Name For Depression? A Verdict
We have seen that burnout and depression share many of the same symptoms, and explored that the way we describe these clusters of symptoms is greatly influenced by stigma. But, one question still stands: can somebody have burnout without depression? The answer is yes, especially at the early stages of burnout (the overworking state) or if the symptoms have been caused only by work-related issues.
However, it is also possible that many people suffering from burnout decide to change their environment, and still seem to present burnout symptoms, even after making all these changes. This suggests that what we call burnout might not only be related to the work environment, but to a mindset or habits that may foster a burnout. Even if you change your work environment, the emotional and cognitive symptoms that caused the initial burnout remain lurking in the background.
Also, burnout has stages, and the more one stays in the same conditions that created burnout in the first place, the more their mental health deteriorates. Hence, the last stages of burnout are chronic anxiety and chronic depression, and that is another point of evidence that there is some overlap between burnout and depression.
All in all, the scientific field is not yet sure about the differences between depression and burnout, or if they might just be two sides of the same coin. What remains essential is to figure out what the mindset behind the problems is and how it is putting people at risk of developing these problems. Whether it is burnout or it is depression, or both are the same thing, tackling the issues that underlie them remains crucial. Only then we can manage the faulty coping mechanisms, habits, lack of self-care and life-balance that seem to be causing these recurring problems.
If you or somebody close to you are suffering from burnout or depression, these videos and articles might be helpful. If you need an extra hand managing the symptoms, here at Antiloneliness we will be happy to support you in your journey.
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