Burnout Vs. Depression: Differences, Similarities, and Treatment

  • Burnout and depression may feel similar but only depression is considered a mental illness.
  • Burnout is typically treated with lifestyle changes to help reduce stress and practice self-care.
  • Depression can be treated with lifestyle changes but may also involve medication.

Life since the pandemic has been tough, leading to increasingly more people experiencing depression spirit burnout.

For example, in 2020, 44% of American workers reported physical exhaustion, an increase of 38% from the previous year. And global cases of


and anxiety are up 25% since the start of the pandemic.

Both conditions can cause similar symptoms – like feeling exhausted or uninterested in things that used to engage you. But depression and burnout are not the same, says Timothy Wilsona behavioral health expert with RWJ Barnabas Health.

“Depression is an illness,” he says. “Burnout is a condition that occurs when we lose our ability to cope, and when relationships, childcare, work, and other issues become overwhelming.”

Despite being different, burnout and depression can be difficult to identify since they can happen at the same time and contribute to each other, says Dr. Rob Rohatsch, an emergency medical physician and chief medical officer at SolvHealth.

“There’s lots of overlap,” Rohatsch says. “Burnout, if left unaddressed, can lead to depression.”

If you’re feeling down day-to-day, it’s important to get help, whether you’re depressed or burned out. A professional can work through your specific symptoms to help identify the underlying cause and make the right sort of interventions.

What is burnout?

“Burnout is the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that comes from long-term exposure to stress, emotionally demanding situations, overwork, [and] pushing too hard without proper self-care, “Rohatsch says.

It can make you less effective at your job and feel distanced or disinterested from your friends, family, and coworkers.

Burnout is not listed in the DSM-5, the manual that American medical professionals use to diagnose mental illnesses, and therefore is not classified as a medical condition. However, in 2019 the international World Health Organization added it to the list of International Classification of Diseases to help bring attention to burnout and how it can be effectively managed.

In order to treat burnoutyou’ll need to carve out time in your busy schedule to reduce stress spirit prioritize self-care. Even taking 15-20 minutes a day to do something enjoyable has been proven to help surgeons (a very high-stress job) avoid burnout.

Finding the right therapist can also help you overcome burnout. They can help you figure out methods of self-care that you may not have thought of before. For example, therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you change your perspective and thought patterns around stressors in your life, Wilson says.

Guided meditation, boundary-setting, exercising, eating healthyand sleeping well will help ease burnout, “Wilson says.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental illness that affects about 20% of Americans over the course of their lifetime, and about 8.4% of Americans each year.

It’s normal to occasionally feel sad. However, if you’re experiencing a depressive episode that lasts for two weeks or more, then you may qualify for a diagnosis of depressive disorder.

A depressive episode includes the following symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes to weight or appetite
  • Sleep trouble
  • Feeling agitated
  • Fatigue and feeling slowed down
  • Having low self-worth or feeling guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Certain people are at higher risk for depression, including those who have:

  • A family history of depression
  • Experienced trauma or major life changes like divorce
  • Substance use disorder
  • Other medical conditions including insomnia, ADHD, or anxiety

Lifestyle choices including exercise,


and alternative therapies can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for depression. However, it’s also important to work with a doctor who can prescribe antidepressants and other medical treatments.

If your depression is severe and leaves you unable to work for at least a year, you may qualify for disability.

Burnout Vs. depression

Depression and burnout can have similar symptoms, including exhaustion and lack of interest. They also have similar treatment methods like practicing self-care and seeing a therapist.

The key difference is that depression is a medical condition that often requires medication, has biological roots, and is recognized by the DSM-5 whereas burnout is not.

Although the WHO recognizes burnout as an illness, the American Psychiatric Association does not. There are no medical treatments available for burnout.

Insider’s takeaway

Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or uninterested can be terrible, whether it’s caused by burnout or depression. Although burnout is a syndrome and depression is an official medical diagnosis, both can have a big impact on your life, so it’s important to reach out for help.

“Consult a therapist or primary care doctor if you are feeling depressed or burned out,” Rohatsch says. “Take time for self care to see if you feel better by carving out more time for yourself. If you are unable to do that, you should be evaluated for depression.”

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