Many a times, clinical depression can be triggered by stresses at work. It is no wonder that people often wonder what the differences are between depression and burnout from work.
1. Depression, A Diagnosis. Burnout, A Description
The greatest difference is that clinical depression / major depressive disorder is a formal psychiatric diagnosis whilst burnout is a description of one's feelings towards work. To be diagnosed with clinical depression, the sufferer has to have several symptoms of depression and for a duration of at least 2 weeks. You can read this page to find out more about clinical depression.
"Burnout" was coined in the 70s by psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger. To date there is no scientific definition for burnout. It generally describes a lost of interest and motivation towards work following a long period of excessive stress. The sufferer complains of tiredness and lethargy. He or she may feel unappreciated and may be cynical about work and colleagues.
If an individual is just burnt out from work and has not developed clinical depression, the difficult mood and lack of motivation is generally limited to work and work related events. He will feel fine when he is at home or when doing his hobbies. A tell tale sign that this is just burnout and not depression is if the individual feels alright during weekends and starts to worry and brood about work on Sunday night. In depression, not only will the individual have a sense of negativity towards work, the negativity spreads to life in general as well.
3. Severity of Symptoms
Compared to just burnout where physical exhaustion, feeling low about work and poor work performance are typical symptoms, the symptoms of clinical depression can be a lot more serious and include:
i) Hopelessness and Despair
ii) Low Self Esteem and Loss of Confidence
iii) Suicidal Thoughts and Suicidal Attempts
4. Treatment Recommendations
For pure burnout, removing the source of stress will lead to rapid improvement of symptoms. Quitting or changing one's job will help to rid one of the feelings of burnout. However, in clinical depression, the sufferer will persist in feeling negative about his new circumstances or new job. In fact, losing one's job may aggravate the depression! As such, allowing the depressed individual to have some rest from work and to only make a decision AFTER the depression has been adequately treated is important.
When Burnout is Depression and Vice Versa....
The relationship between burnout and depression is a complex one with numerous overlap in symptoms and a bi-directional influence. It is easy to see why a burnout individual who is unhappy at work is at risk of developing depression. Clinical depression can bring about a loss of motivation and lethargy which can worsen work burnout as well. When this happens, the sufferer becomes trapped in a negative vicious cycle.
Regardless of the terminology, there are solutions and treatment for both work burnout and clinical depression. Identifying and delineating the two with careful assessment and investigations will help the clinician / psychiatrist provide the best and optimum treatment for the patient.