What is the Difference Between Burnout and Depression?

Apr 18, 2024
What is the Difference Between Burnout and Depression?
Is burnout the same as depression? If not, can burnout lead to depression? These are common questions, as experiencing burnout can feel a lot like depression. Read on to learn about the symptoms of burnout and depression, difference and treatment.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a common term frequently used in connection to one’s job. However, according to Psych Central, it can also be caused by emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion due to long-term exposure to stress and emotionally demanding situations such as parenting or caring for an elderly relative.

When it is due to a job, some of the professions commonly associated with burnout include teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and professional athletes.

According to a 2021 study, burnout symptoms can include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Reduced work performance
  • Loss of empathy
  • Social withdrawal



 What is depression?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a depressive episode as a period in one’s life of at least two weeks, during which they exhibit the requisite symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). The symptoms of MDD include:

  •     Low mood
  •     Sadness
  •     Hopelessness
  •     An inability to feel joy
  •     Difficulty concentrating
  •     Emptiness
  •     Significant weight changes when not dieting
  •     Insomnia or hypersomnia
  •     A sense of guilt
  •     A sense of worthlessness
  •     Suicidality

Can you experience burnout and depression?

While burnout is not considered depression, someone can experience both at the same time. They can have different causes, and make the other worse, according to Psych Central.

A 2021 study found that burnout can lead to symptoms of depression or even a depressive episode, but depression does not cause burnout. People who suffer from depression will not necessarily experience burnout.

Risk factors for burnout include:

  • long work hours
  • high-stakes responsibilities
  • unrealistic expectations
  • a toxic or fear-based workplace culture
  • expectation of high performance with inadequate resources
  • an unsafe work environment
  • discouraged use of employee benefits, such as paid time off
  • perfectionism
  • low compensation

While burnout is a response to a prolonged adverse environment, depression can have other causes such as genetics, temperamental inclination, childhood environment, significant life events, trauma, and the existence of a medical condition or another psychiatric disorder.

How to manage burnout and depression?

Burnout is not considered a mental disorder; however, there are ways to manage it like setting boundaries about how you want to be treated and reasonable expectations. Mindfulness and therapy can also be helpful. When the environmental situation improves, symptoms of burnout syndrome usually abate.

On the other hand, depression can be persistent and require treatment by a professional healthcare provider. First-line depression treatments involve therapy and medication.

Therapy involves speaking with a mental health professional to better understand one’s experiences and increase wellbeing. Forms of psychotherapy commonly used to treat depression include psychodynamics, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).

As for medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) might be prescribed. Though psychopharmacology is a generally effective treatment, it can cause side effects such as weight gain or sexual dysfunction.

Also, many patients are found to be treatment resistant, meaning that medication does not bring sufficient relief for their depression symptoms.

In those situations, clinicians may prescribe a noninvasive medical device treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), or Deep TMS™.

TMS, which has been FDA cleared to treat depression since 2008, uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the neural activity of brain structures. Deep TMS is a newer form of TMS, which addresses targeting concerns raised by traditional TMS, as it reaches deeper and broader areas of the brain. Deep TMS is clinically demonstrated to be a safe and effective treatment for depression and other mental health disorders like anxious depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and smoking addiction.

Deep TMS is a short in-office treatment that does not require anesthesia. Patients can drive themselves immediately after a session.

If you or a loved one are experiencing burnout, talk to your healthcare provider to see if it has led to depression and the best course of treatment.