Does Depression Make You More Prone to Burnout?
Depression and burnout are two distinct conditions. Even though they have many common symptoms, they are not one and the same. That said, I believe having depression makes one more prone to burnout. This is why.
Defining Depression and Burnout
For the sake of clarity, let’s take a quick look at the definitions of depression and burnout.
According to Mental Health America1, « burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands.
According to NIMH2, « depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. »
From these definitions, it’s clear that they are related yet distinct conditions.
Why Depression Can Cause Burnout
The way I see it, anyone can burnout at work. However, speaking from personal experience, a depressed person is more susceptible to burnout. Some primary reasons are negative self-talk, limited mental and physical energy levels, and a general sense of disillusionment.
A person with depression typically defaults to negative self-talk. Anything they do doesn’t seem good enough and at work, this can translate to setting unrealistic goals. When they don’t achieve these goals, they beat themselves up for being incompetent. This becomes a vicious cycle: setting unreasonable goals, failing to achieve them, and letting negative self-talk take over. And negative self-talk leads to burnout.
A person with depression often feels guilty for not accomplishing more in their professional life. To try and make up for their lack of achievements, they work even on their worst days, even when they know they should slow down and respect their energy levels. And pushing yourself frequently leads to burnout.
A person with depression who listens to their inner critic and fails to foster a healthy rest ethic soon becomes cynical. Their career prospects seem bleak and work becomes overwhelming. A sense of disillusionment takes over. And disillusionment leads to burnout.
How do I know this? Well, because to a significant extent, I am that person right now.
What Can You Do?
Take a mental health day or two or three to recover. If it’s not possible to take time off, take a leaf out of Karen’s book and speak to the manager. However, instead of complaining about something unimportant, tell them you need a reduced workload till you feel better. If you are your own boss, make time for your wellness and work less.
- Mental Health America, « Burnout Prevention« ., Accessed December 10, 2020.
- National Institute of Mental Health, « Depression. », Accessed December 10, 2020.