Burnout and depression

It is the end of a hectic year and as you make your way around the season’s frantic festivities there are also moments to stop and reflect on what has gone in the year before. If as part of that reflection you are feeling that you have been exhausted and losing interest in your work then you may be experiencing “burnout” and if that is the case you may also be experiencing that pervasive condition of the present moment; depression.

Although the phrase “burnout” is tossed around with inappropriate ease there is in fact a real, if poorly defined, psychological condition underlying the term. The term “burnout” was first used in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals experienced by people working in “helping” professions (doctors, nurses, teachers, and so on). Freudenberger said that people who sacrifice themselves for others can often end up being “burned out”; exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.

Clearly Freudenberger was on to something because the phrase took hold and extended its application. These days “burnout” is applied to anybody from financiers, to celebrities, to any over-worked employee. In psychological terms the condition is not particularly well defined and studied but it is recognisable. There is no official diagnosis agreed for “burnout” but there are scales that measure it and there are established symptoms. Those symptoms include emotional exhaustion (feeling drained, exhausted, overloaded, tired, and lacking energy), alienation from job-related activities (developing a cynical attitude towards work and colleagues), and reduced work performance.

In this new study the researchers were looking for a link between burnout and depression

The study involved 5,575 school teachers who had an average age of 41. The subjects completed the Patient Health Questionnaire to measure depression and the Maslach Burnout Inventory was used to measure burnout. The results showed that 90 per cent of people identified with burnout also showed up as having depression. Of these, 63 per cent showed as having “atypical depression”. Any type of depression can make you feel sad and keep you from enjoying life but “atypical depression” has certain key signs and symptoms including increased hunger, weight gain, sleeping a lot, feeling that your arms and legs are heavy, and difficulty maintaining relationships.

If you are seeing yourself in these symptom descriptions it might be time to look at how you are dealing with work and life in general. It might be time to start taking a more relaxed approach to your work before it is too late.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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