Understanding the Link Between Burnout and Depression

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What Is Burnout and Depression?

Burnout and depression are two closely related mental health difficulties that can significantly impact an individual’s personal and professional life.

Burnout is often described as a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that can affect anyone who experiences chronic workplace stress. Burnout symptoms typically include cynicism, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment. People experiencing burnout may feel drained, demotivated, and disconnected from others; impacting both their work and personal lives.

Burnout in tech

Depression, on the other hand, is a diagnosable mental health condition, that impacts an indiviudals’ thoughts, behaviours, feelings and even their physiology, and triggers can be multi-faceted. Depression can result in persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, and negative thoughts about yourself and the future to name but a few.

Despite their differences, burnout and depression share many similarities, and people experiencing burnout can develop depression, and vice versa. Both conditions can benefit from professional support to help individuals to recover and manage their symptoms.

Understanding the differences and similarities between depression and burnout can help individuals identify and manage their symptoms appropriately. If you feel that you are experiencing depression or burnout, please consider consulting with a mental health professional or your GP, and accessing the support that you deserve.

The Importance of Identifying Burnout and Depression in the Workplace

There are several reasons why identifying burnout and depression in the workplace is important. Firstly, it helps managers and employers to recognise the warning signs of these conditions and take preventive measures. For example, if employees are showing signs of stress, fatigue, cynicism, or decreased productivity, it could be that they are experiencing burnout. Similarly, if exmployees appear to be experiencing persistent sadness, numbness, expressing feelings of worthlessness, or demonstrating a loss of interest in hobbies for example, it could be that they are experiencing depression. Recognising these signs allows managers to offer support to employees to improve their wellbeing and prevent any further decline.

Secondly, identifying burnout and depression in the workplace can help reduce absenteeism and presenteeism among employees. Individuals who are struggling with their mental health are more likely to take time off work with sickness, and struggle to manage their workload when they are present. This can lead to reduced productivity and hinder overall business performance. By recognising early warning signs, employers can provide support to employees and benefit both the individual and the business.

How Burnout and Depression Relate to Each Other

Burnout and depression are distinct conditions that can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Whilst they are separate conditions, there is a link between burnout and depression that is important to understand.

Burnout at its’ core is the result of excessive and prolonged stress related to work. Burnout can occur in any profession or industry, but is most common in high-pressure jobs such as healthcare, law enforcement, and finance. Depression, on the other hand, is a diagnosable mental health condition that can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as stress and traumatic life events.

Depression and burnout share many symptoms and can often coexist. For example, both burnout and depression can lead to exhaustion, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and digestive issues.

Burnout can be a contributing factor to the development of depression. When burnout is left unmanaged, it can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. This can make individuals significantly low in mood, leading to depression. Furthermore, burnout can make individuals’ more sensitive to stress, which may make them more vulnerable to developing depression.

Treatment for burnout may involve taking time off work, making lifestyle changes, or seeking counselling. Treatment for depression often involves a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and medication. By understanding the link between burnout and depression, employers can take steps to reduce the stress and pressure employees face and prevent distress.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout and Depression

Some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for are:

Exhaustion: Both burnout and depression can cause significant tiredness and fatigue, even after a full night’s sleep. People may report feeling physically and mentally drained, and have difficulty carrying out normal activities.


Feelings of disengagement: Burnout can lead to feelings of detachment and disinterest in work. People may struggle to focus or find energy to engage with tasks they previously enjoyed, while those experiencing depressive symptoms may lose interest in hobbies or friends and withdraw socially.


Low mood: Both burnout and depression can lead to feelings of sadness, irritability, and hopelessness. People may experience low self-esteem, feel overwhelmed, and find themselves feeling overwhelmed often than usual.


Physical symptoms: Burnout and depression can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, or gastrointestinal problems. These may become chronic if left untreated.


Cognitive symptoms: Burnout and depression can both impact cognitive and executive functioning such as decision-making, working memory, and problem-solving. People may find themselves struggling to concentrate or feeling forgetful.


Behavioural changes: Those experiencing burnout or depression may will likely behave differently to their usual self, such as a decrease in productivity, increased absenteeism, or changes in appetite.


Mental health professionals can help to identify the causes of burnout or depression and offer positive coping strategies. Recognising and addressing these conditions early can be key to achieving long-term mental health and wellbeing.

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Strategies for Coping with Burnout and Depression

 If you feel that you are experiencing burnout and/or depression, there are several strategies that can help you cope and manage the symptoms.

  1. Take Breaks

If you’re feeling low in mood or burned out, make sure to take breaks throughout the day. This might involve getting a change of scenery, taking a walk, or even some gentle stretching. Even just a few moments of quiet reflection can help you to ground yourself, and feel less consumed by your thoughts and emotions.

  1. Prioritise Self-Care

Self-care means making a conscious effort to engage in activities for the purpose of taking care of your well-being. Some examples of self-care include:

– Eating a healthy, balanced diet

– Exercising

– Resting

– Engaging in relaxing activities, such as meditation or yoga

– Spending time with loved ones

– Taking a break from social media and other stressors

Remember – self-care is not selfish – it is a sign of self-respect!

  1. Seek Support

If you are struggling with depression or burnout, support from others can be extremely beneficial. This could be from your manager, a trusted friend or family member, or professional support such as from a therapist, support group or support line.

  1. Set Boundaries

Boundaries in both your personal and professional lives can be crucial for overcoming depression and burnout. Saying no to things that don’t serve your well-being, setting limits on your time and energy, and not picking up overtime as examples; can all help you to prevent additional stress and improve your overall well-being.

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, and observing your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways, such as:

Guided mindfulness meditation

– Breathing exercises

– Grounding techniques

Seek Support From Mental Health Experts

People who experience burnout are 3 times more likely to develop depression than those who don’t. So what can be done to break this cycle of burnout and depression? Support from mental health professionals such as via accessing talking therapy, is one of the most effective strategies for overcoming depression and burnout.

Mental health professionals such as therapists and counsellors, are trained to help people to manage the psychological and emotional challenges that accompany depression and burnout. They can provide guidance and support for developing healthy coping mechanisms, managing stress, and improving overall wellbeing.

In therapy, therapists can help to identify any underlying issues or triggers that may be contributing to burnout and depression, any patterns to your responses to triggers, and also the factors maintaining your difficulties. These could include unresolved trauma, relationship difficulties, absence of positive coping strategies or physical health issues.

Therapists can work with individuals to develop a personalised treatment plan. This may include a combination of lifestyle changes, self-care strategies and even medication, to help manage symptoms and improve overall wellbeing.

In conclusion, seeking support from mental health experts is crucial for individuals who are struggling with burnout and depression. By working with a trained professional, individuals can receive the guidance, support, and resources needed to improve their overall quality of life. Support is always available, and the last thing you need to feel when you are depressed or burned-out is alone. 

Creating a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace Culture

Companies need to take proactive measures in creating a mental health-friendly culture within the workplace to prevent and minimise the effects of depression and burnout. Some steps companies can take are:

Educate employees on mental health

One of the most effective ways to create a mental health-friendly workplace culture is to educate employees on mental health. This includes providing training on how to recognize mental health difficulties, and how to support colleagues who may be struggling. By increasing understanding of mental health difficulties, businesses can reduce stigma surrounding mental health.

Implement policies to support mental health

Companies should also implement policies that support mental health. Policies could include offering flexible working arrangements, such as remote working or part-time working, to help employees manage their mental health. Companies can also offer mental health support services, such via employee assistance programmes or access to private therapists.

Encourage open communication

Creating a mental health-friendly workplace culture requires an environment where employees feel safe to talk about mental health. Companies should encourage open communication about mental health by providing opportunities for employees to discuss mental health in team meetings, one-to-one conversations, or wellness programmes. By creating a safe and supportive environment, businesses increase the likelihood of employees feeling able to seek support when they need it.

Lead by example

Leadership is key in creating a mental health-friendly workplace culture. Those in leadership positions should set an example by openly discussing mental health and wellbeing, and by prioritising mental health in company policies and practices. This includes promoting work-life balance, addressing workplace stress, and allowing people to be human and make mistakes.

Whilst burnout and depression can have a profound impact on the lives on individuals, businesses can play their part in supporting individuals and improving their mental health and wellbeing.

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