The Keys to Differentiating Burnout and Depression

The Keys to Differentiating Burnout and Depression The issue of physician burnout has gained considerable attention in recent years, as research continues to map its underlying causes and resulting impact. Yet even as we begin to understand more about this crisis in our profession, we still stumble when it comes to differentiating burnout from depression.

The fact that burnout and depression are often conflated is understandable, given the conceptual overlap that exists between them. Someone can have milder forms of the word-association reaction that is burnout without having the medical condition of clinical depression. Differentiating between the two requires the use of appropriate terminology for both work and clinical settings that is acceptable to stakeholders and effective in making needed assessments and interventions.

It has been proposed that burnout is a depressive disorder in the work setting,[1] but this phraseology confounds decades of research on major depression’s effect on productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism in the workplace, which made no attribution of cause.