Your Burnout Might Actually Be Depression, Says Study, Which Totally Makes Sense When You Think About It
At some point in the span of our career years, we're all likely to experience the phenomenon known as burnout. But when you're up against that wall and can't imagine making it through one more day at the office, it may be time to consider your burnout might be depression. This revelation comes by way of a recent study suggesting that — although medicine has long insisted on a distinction between burnout and depression — the two issues may be linked.
The study, which was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences , sought to determine whether burnout could be more akin to a cognitive style typical of depression than to the traditionally accepted logic of exhaustion. To prove this theory, researchers had psychologists administer questionnaires on burnout and depression to 1,386 teachers (the majority of whom were women) across 18 states. For what it's worth, most of those polled were in their early to mid-40s and had been teaching for an average of 14.4 years. In polling these participants, researchers found that 10 percent of the women and 7 percent of the men admitted to suffering from burnout. Interestingly, 10 percent of the men and 10 percent of the women also identified as having classically depressive traits.
So here's where it gets really intriguing. According to Herbert Freudenberger, the German-American clinical psychologist who coined the term, burnout is "a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward." Of those who identified as suffering from burnout, moderately severe depressive symptoms were reported more than with any of the other participants. And — get this — every single person reporting symptoms of burnout reported classically depressive traits, too.
If you've ever experienced burnout, this likely makes quite a bit of sense to you. Because while burnout is typically thought of as reaching a state of physical and mental exhaustion, those suffering from it are likewise plagued by sadness, anxiety, helplessness, self-blame, and other emotions you may well recognize as markers of depression. The overlap between the two conditions exhibited in this new study bring us one step closer to helping people recognize and identify the myriad ways depression can creep in when we're not looking for it... particularly when tied to work, given our modern culture's propensity for allowing work to become the driving force in our lives.
Of course, that's not to say burnout is always depression. Much more research is needed before such a definitive claim can be made. Still, burnout is real and, regardless of whether or not it ultimately is depression, merits some attention if you can't seem to shake it.