Burnout vs Depression

Burnout vs Depression

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Burnout vs Depression


Burnout is usually thought of as something that happens professionally and caused by work stress, but the way it makes you feel can feel very similar to depression, a common definition is that it has three components to it, exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Let’s look at Burnout vs Depression, side by side.


The twelve symptoms of depression, it takes five of them to be considered as having a major depressive episode:

  1. Low interest
  2. Inefficacy
  3. Cynicism
  4. Exhaustion
  5. Depressed mood
  6. Appetite change
  7. Sleep change
  8. Agitated or slowed
  9. Low energy
  10. Worthlessness
  11. Thinking problems
  12. Suicidality


So as you can see with depression you have both mental and physical changes. It’s more than just thinking, I hate my life, but it includes physical changes in the way your body functions like with your appetite, your sleep, and your energy level.


Symptoms of burnout vs depression


With burnout you get emotional exhaustion in response to a prolonged stress, you get the personalization or cynicism, as a negative response to your job and others around you. Depersonalization is the experience of feeling detached from yourself. It can seem like you’re just observing yourself in the world and you’re not really inside of yourself. For the person who’s burned out, you can feel like you’re just going through the motions every day and you’re not really living it. Now, a person who’s depressed, can have depersonalization experiences but there’s so much else going on that that the personalization is not a prominent feature. However, with burnout it’s a prominent feature and it’s usually related to the stress in your work, or the demands of your work, or even the demands of your home life.


The last symptom of burnout is a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. This is what is known as inefficacy. It’s like you’re just chugging along, turning out work and doing all the things everyone wants you to do, but you’re just not getting anything out of it.

Burnout vs Depression Differences


One of the main differences between depression and burnout is that with depression, you usually have trouble getting pleasure from any of the things that you’d normally made you feel good before, and this is in any setting.


So a person in a deep depression can be flown to an exotic island, and with their own lounge chair, and that person can sit there and still feel miserable. Whereas with burnout, the sense of exhaustion stress and dissatisfaction is closely connected to the stress, so you can take that person and say hey, we’ve made arrangements for someone to take over all of your work, and we’re going to fly you off to Bora Bora for a week. And when you get back, you’ll have a clean slate, there will be no work that’s piled up because Jane over there is going to take care of all of your work and she’s not going to get mad about it, and you’re going to have this whole week paid for.


Now you may say, “who wouldn’t love that”. Well, with the depressed person, none of that stuff matters. The darkness is still in your head. So but the burned out person can go on that kind of trip, sit in the lounge chair and be completely rejuvenated and relaxed. In fact, often people who are in the early stages of burnout, can have a complete relief of their symptoms on the weekends if they’re not working, but then they can have the Sunday evening fear.

Stages of Burnout vs Depression


In the early stages of burnout, people who are burned out can become depressed. It’s not as though you can only have one or the other, but it can start as burnout and progress to depression, especially if you’re someone who has previously been depressed in the past, or you’re prone to developing a depression, independent of any of your circumstances. Depression doesn’t have to be the result of something bad happening, it can just be its own thing, without any negative situations causing it.




Another way to tell the difference between burnout vs depression is that with depression, you can have feelings of self loathing and worthlessness, that are that are pretty much generalized, but with burnout, your self esteem is usually preserved, but if you do have any feelings of worthlessness, it’s usually only connected to your value and in your work, and it’s not to your overall value and self worth as a person.


Why does it matter to distinguish burnout vs depression?


If a person’s burned out but not depressed, they don’t need to be treated with antidepressant medication. The way to address the burnout is to address the factors that led to the burnout.


So that leads to the question of why do people get burned out in the first place.


Christina Maslach pioneered the research on burnout. She called burnout the “erosion of engagement with your job”. When there’s a poor role fit you’re less likely to cope with the stress of your workplace, in other words, when your character and your temperament don’t match well with the demands of in the culture of your workplace, you can become burned out when the demands of work outstrip your ability to compensate for these things that aren’t clicking well for you.


So it’s not just a matter of having a lot of work to do, or being in a stressful environment. People can hold up well under great amounts of stress, if they’re feeling personal satisfaction from their work. The way to reduce burnout is to change the individual or to change the environment, you don’t have a lot of control over your environment, unless you’re self employed. So then the focus becomes learning the different ways to cope with the work setting.

Overcome Burnout


How you change yourself to better adapt to your work environment is going to be an individual thing, but here’s some general ideas:


Setting time boundaries


Don’t allow yourself to be infinitely available to people. We’ve developed the expectation that if you text or email someone, you should get an instant answer, but we train people to believe this by instantly responding. But suppose you check your messages four times a day in batches. The people who reach out to you will come to expect you to respond in a more extended period of time and stop expecting an instant response. If you’re always allowing yourself to be instantly available, you’re never giving your mind a chance to unwind. An overactive mind leads to stress, anxiety and burnout.


Some other self help interventions would be things like prioritizing your sleep and making sure you get seven to nine hours. If you’re always sacrificing sleep because you’re working late. You become inefficient because of the sleep deprivation, and then that inefficiency makes you need to work longer hours, because you’re not thinking as quickly taking time to exercise also helps relieve stress and improve your mood, taking 10 minutes in the middle of the day to decompress with meditation can go a long way in recharging and rebooting your mental energy.


Home recharge systems like those used at the world’s best wellness clinic, Physis Wellness are great for helping you be able to do that in a guided fashion. Now all these things are ways to change you, but sometimes changing you, isn’t the final solution, you may, you may need to take a hard look at whether or not your job is really a good fit for you.


Can you imagine this level of work for another 5, 10 or 15 years? Maybe the change is a matter of changing your work environment, or finding a different company that that does similar work, Maybe it’s similar work but in a different industry. These aren’t easy answers but burnout and depression have negative consequences on your body. And if they persist over a long time it’s like trying to push a square peg into a round hole if you push hard and long enough, you may get that square to go through the hole, but you’ll lose the edges of the square and will be negatively changed when it comes out on the other side.


If you notice that you’re feeling more generally hopeless and taking a break from work doesn’t help, then talk to your doctor. You could start with your primary care doctor or you could see a therapist to see if you’re starting to develop a depression.

References: Burnout vs Depression


  1. Maslach C, Jackson SE. The measurement of experienced burnout. J Occupat Behav 1981;2:99‐113. []
  2. Maslach C, Leiter MP. The truth about burnout. San Francisco: Jossey‐Bass, 1997. []
  3. Maslach C, Jackson SE, Leiter MP. (eds). Maslach Burnout Inventory manual, 3rd ed Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1996. []
  4. Maslach C, Leiter MP, Schaufeli WB. Measuring burnout In: Cooper CL, Cartwright S. (eds). The Oxford handbook of organizational well‐being. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009:86‐108. []
  5. Feldt T, Rantanen J, Hyvonen K et al. The 9‐item Bergen Burnout Inventory: factorial validity across organizations and measurements of longitudinal data. Ind Health 2014;52:102‐12. [PubMed] []
  6. Shiron A, Melamed S. A comparison of the construct validity of two burnout measures in two groups of professionals. Int J Stress Manage 2006;13:176‐200. []
  7. Borgogni L, Consiglio C, Alessandri G et al. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” Interpersonal strain at work and burnout. Eur J Work Organizat Psychol 2012;21:875‐98. []
  8. Schaufeli WB, Enzmann D. The burnout companion to study and practice: a critical analysis. London: Taylor & Francis, 1998. []
  9. González‐Morales M, Peiró JM, Rodríguez I et al. Perceived collective burnout: a multilevel explanation of burnout. Anxiety Stress Coping 2012;25:43‐61. [PubMed] []
  10. Ndetei DM, Pizzo M, Maru H et al. Burnout in staff working at the Mathari psychiatric hospital. Afr J Psychiatry 2008;11:199‐203. [PubMed] []
  11. Hakanen JJ, Schaufeli WB. Do burnout and work engagement predict depressive symptoms and life satisfaction? A three‐wave seven‐year prospective study. J Affect Disord 2012;141:415‐24. [PubMed] []
  12. Leiter MP, Laschinger HK, Day A et al. The impact of civility interventions on employee social behavior, distress, and attitudes. J Appl Psychol 2011;96:1258‐74. [PubMed] []
Burnout vs Depression
Article Name
Burnout vs Depression
Burnout vs Depression. What are the similarities and differences. How can you tell if someone has Burnout vs Depression. What behavior to watch for.
Publisher Name
Worlds Best Rehab
Publisher Logo
At Worlds Best Rehab, we strive to provide the most up-to-date and accurate medical information on the web so our readers can make informed decisions about their healthcare.
Our reviewers are credentialed medical providers specializing in addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare. We follow strict guidelines when fact-checking information and only use credible sources when citing statistics and medical information. Look for the medically reviewed badge Worlds Best Rehab on our articles for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate or out-of-date, please let us know via our Contact Page