What’s the Real Link Between Burnout and Depression?

There’s nothing enjoyable about being burned out at work. You feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and hopeless. You can’t get excited about or engaged in any projects. You’d rather face a stomach flu than another Monday morning. With this list of symptoms, many people assume work burnout is just another way of saying “depression.” But is it true?


Some people used to say that work burnout wasn’t nearly as severe as depression, because the symptoms of work burnout were confined to the work week, whereas true depression exists regardless of the situation. But often, individuals who started off feeling burned out progressed to true depression, in time. Many experts now believe burnout and depression exist on a continuum, where untreated burnout can ultimately lead to depression. And indeed, studies comfirm a large overlap between people who are burned out and people who experience depressive symptoms.


Burnout and depression also share a successful treatment – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. But the two struggles differ in one major way: at its early stages, burnout can be treated much more simply than depression. First, burnout often causes detachment, so building relationships in the workplace can be a critical strategy. Studies also suggest that finding meaning and purpose in your work can relieve the experience of burnout. Once you are coping with depression, meaning-making activities are no longer enough to make an impact, but if you intervene while still in the “burnout” stage, having a deeper connection to the purpose of your work is a helpful technique.


Feeling overwhelmed at work is incredibly common – close to 60% of working adults in the US admit to feeling overwhelmed. If you are struggling with stress at work and worried about burning out, get your hands on a copy of my new book The Successful Struggle: Powerful Techniques to Achieve Accelerated Resilience. One entire chapter is dedicated to research and strategies for overcoming chaos and reducing the stress of being overwhelmed.


You don’t have to burn out. With help, you can avoid letting your stressors run wild and take you with them.