Depression vs. Burnout

How to know if you're depressed or burnt out?

How to know if you're depressed or burnt out?

Proper diagnosis is very important and only a medically trained (mental) health professional can diagnose you.

Luckily, in BeNeLux countries, where I live, burnout is recognized pretty quickly by healthcare professionals. However, I know that many of MYOR followers live elsewhere in the world and may be more confused about this difference.

In this article, I'll give you some information about how to distinguish between the two and where burnout coaching fits in the picture.

Why is proper diagnosis important?

Proper diagnosis is super important because the diagnosis sets the tone of your recovery process:

Who should treat you and how? What kind of treatment plan do you need? Do you need medication (why, how much and when)? Do you need therapy and for what? Do you need coaching and for what? …

If you (and your healthcare providers) don't know what kind of treatment you need and what for, you may end up in the black hole called burnout for much longer than needed or expected.

We burnout coaches are NOT qualified to diagnose you with burnout - but the ones who are properly trained can sense the difference and refer you to a health professional.

What is depression? What is burnout? What is "complex burnout"?

Burnout is an energy disorder while depression is a mood disorder. Depression is, among others, characterized by the loss of zest for life. Note that "depressive mood" is not the same as (major) depressive disorder.

According to DSM-5, major depressive disorder has two main symptoms: depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure in activities. ICD-10 adds one more in the main symptoms list, which is reduced energy.

* DSM: American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
* ICD: World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems

Research on burnout (usually short for "occupational burnout syndrome") is still ongoing and there is less of a consensus in this field. However, according to the latest research from the University of Leuven by Schaufeli et al., burnout is characterized by 1) exhaustion, 2) mental distancing, 3) cognitive impairment, and 4) emotional

ICD-11 (which will come into effect from 1 January 2022 onwards) has also finally recognized burnout.

Mostly affects all areas of one's lifeMostly work-related (and long-term chronic stress related to work)
Symptoms are not alleviated by rest and time offSymptoms and complaints are usually alleviated after a period of rest and/or time off work
Treatment only by physician, clinical psychologist, and/or psychiatristTreatment by GP accompanied by burnout coaching is usually sufficient in uncomplicated cases

One of the most important distinctions to make is whether the individual has depression as a mood disorder or "depressive feelings" which don't necessarily mean a mood disorder.

In the case of burnout, depressive feelings are expected to concentrate around work, for instance. However, depression as a mood disorder that affects every area of one's life - not only work.

Another important distinction is that, burnout symptoms and complaints are usually alleviated after a period of rest or time off from work, while depression is usually not alleviated by resting.

As you might have guessed, only a trained (mental) health professional can diagnose you properly.

Depression and burnout can easily coexist. This is yet another reason why proper diagnosis is very important.

When burnout is accompanied with a psychological/mental problem, we call this a "complex burnout". In the case of complex burnout, burnout coaching can only be a supplementary effort to treatment by physicians and clinical psychologists.

Proper burnout coaching

I often have clients with burnout complaints including depressive feelings.

One of the questions I ask prospective clients is whether they've been to a GP or a psychologist for a proper diagnosis. Many times, these prospective clients report that they're already in therapy (for depression or other reasons) and that they want to take up coaching to support their recovery. Such people are my dream clients, as they take the time and effort to seek appropriate medical help first, and supplement this help with coaching.

As someone with a history of chronic depression, it is my duty to trust my educated guess (and my personal experience) when I see signs of depression and tell the prospective client that they need to see a physician or a psychologist to get a proper diagnosis, and only after that, we can look into what we can do on top in a coaching trajectory. Once again: coaches are not trained, entitled, or allowed to diagnose or treat anyone.

Burnout coaching and psychotherapy can perfectly go together. So much so that some of my clients are forwarded to me by clinical psychologists to support their recovery.

In any case, burnout coaching is a supportive practice for anyone with burnout.

Receiving coaching is one of the best things you can do for yourself to shorten the length of burnout, to recover from the long-terms effects of chronic stress, and to resume life and work as soon as responsibly possible.

Why? Because burnout coaches are trained in the causes, consequences, and symptoms of (chronic) stress and they can spend more time with a client to improve their wellbeing.

I want to hear from you!

Have you been depressed and/or burnt out? How were you diagnosed with either? How did you "feel" the difference between the two?

I'd love to hear from you! So contact me and drop me a line.

PS: Please share this piece of knowledge with other academics who might be interested in learning the difference between depression and burnout. Nobody should suffer alone.

PPS: If this email was forwarded to you by someone else, subscribe to the Mind Your Own Revisions newsletter for more emails like this regarding burnout, mental health, and wellbeing in academia.

Credit: Photo by Gadiel Lazcano on Unsplash.

Categories: Burnout, Depression, Mental Health

Want to stay up-to-date?

Subscribe to the Mind Your Own Revisions newsletter!

You'll receive fortnightly emails with news, offerings, blog posts, tips and tricks. 

I have read and agree to the terms & conditions.