Is Burnout a Mental Illness?
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Anyone who has experienced job burnout knows it is awful, but is burnout a mental illness? According to the newest revisions to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11, burnout is new recognized officially as a “syndrome.” This has the condition falling into the realm of mental health concerns without officially labeling it as a mental illness. As a syndrome, burnout could result in a mental illness.
This new designation is a welcome one, as it now offers individuals suffering from workplace burnout something they can’t point to in order to explain their symptoms. As workplace pressures continue to escalate, employers need to address the conditions that might contribute to burnout and find workable solutions. This might mean integrating wellness breaks into the workday, such as providing yoga classes or guided meditation. Other solutions might address better time management, prioritizing of projects, and ways to streamline emails and other time zappers.
Employees are at their peak performance when a healthy life-work balance exists. The fast-paced, ever changing workplace cultures of today can make achieving that balance very challenging. But companies that make their employee’s mental health a top priority will benefit with a more productive, positive work environment.
What is Burnout?
It is understood that most every job description involves a certain amount of drudgery or an occasional sense of being overwhelmed by demands. Tasks that revolve around mind-numbing, rote, and often boring functions that sap energy and decrease job satisfaction. When the weight of these mundane tasks begins to prevent someone from completing their core job functions in a given workday, long hours, weekends, and disruption of private time can ensue. Not only are these functions providing no personal growth or financial gain, but they are demanding so much time that pressure just continues to build when attempting to keep up with the workload.
The opposite situation can also lead to workplace burnout. Some bosses pile on so much demanding work that performing to expectations feels impossible. Maybe the skills required to successfully complete projects have not been adequately taught, leaving the employee feeling completely stressed and incompetent.
Burnout is the physical and mental exhaustion that results from keeping up with relentless routines for an extended period of time. Work-related projects then bleed into personal family time, which then prevent the employee from engaging in the activities and hobbies they enjoy in their time off. This is where work-life balance becomes skewed, as the demands of the job exceed the rewards and little time is available for pleasure.
Signs of Burnout
When chronic workplace stress causes frayed nerves, anxiety, and intense fatigue, is it any wonder that one might wonder is burnout a mental illness. In a way, yes, burnout is a mental illness, although not yet defined as a mental health disorder in the DSM-5. As a syndrome, burnout has the ingredients that can evolve into an anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder. The symptoms of burnout include:
- Depletion of energy, fatigue
- Feelings of detachment toward job
- Somatic symptoms, such as chronic digestive issues, headache, or physical weakness
- Reduced work performance
- Negative emotions such as cynicism or hostility towards job, management, fellow coworkers
- Sleep disturbance
- Stress on relationships
- Substance abuse
Feeling overworked and stressed out is a normal part of being a working adult. But when there is no relief and one’s personal health and mental wellness begins to suffer, burnout then becomes a very real possibility. When burnout occurs, the individual may no longer have any energy left to give. They may feel indifferent and detached and basically stop caring.
How Burnout Can Lead to Serious Mental Health Conditions
Back in the day, when someone had reached maximum burnout and completely melted down it was termed a “nervous breakdown.” Is burnout a mental illness? No, but left unchecked burnout can have dangerous consequences, both psychological and physical. This is due to the perpetually elevated levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, keeping the person in a constant state of fight or flight and reducing immunity to illness. Over time, it may reach a critical peak that can result in the following conditions:
- Depression. Someone who is burned out can become listless, sad, hopeless, and detached. Other depression symptoms include changes in sleeping and eating habits, fatigue, irritability, difficulty making decisions, and suicidal thinking.
- Anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder features feelings of being out of control while experiencing excess fear, worry, or dread. Anxiety also features insomnia, palpitations, sweating, shallow breathing, restlessness, and racing thoughts.
- Sleep disorders. Hypersomnia, or excessive sleeping and insomnia, or an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, can have significant adverse mental health effects, as well as negatively impact physical health and wellbeing.
- Coronary heart disease. A large study out of Israel followed 8,800 employees for over 3 years. They found that among those who scored in the top 20% of the, 79% had an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
What Causes Burnout?
Anyone can go through difficult stretches in their career when expectations and demands were so high that the workload and stress burden seems unsurmountable. However, some people have particular personality traits that may make them more susceptible to workplace burnout. They are, in a way, prewired for burnout. These traits include:
- Perfectionism. Some individuals set such a high standard for excellence that they can place an inordinate amount of undue stress upon themselves. The added stress of constantly striving for perfection throughout the workday can result in burnout.
- Unwilling to delegate. A desire to control the outcome of every task and assignment can result in an unwillingness to let go and trust the team’s abilities to help manage various aspects of the projects. This means the individual is perpetually engaged in every step of an assignment which can lead to burnout.
- Being a martyr. Some employees may sacrifice their health or mental wellness for the sake of being a high performer who delivers results. This means that their lives revolve around the adulation and positive strokes of work, and that they will throw themselves on the sword to make sure everything is successfully completed on time. These individuals also ignore self-care and work-life balance
- Poor time management skills. Undeveloped organizational skills can lead to wasted time in completing tasks. Not prioritizing can allow mundane activities to swallow up vast amounts of time leaving insufficient time for getting the higher-level tasks completed on time.
How to Prevent Burnout and Manage Stress
Being cognizant of the dangers of slipping into burnout means having a healthy respect for maintaining balance in life. This means being proactive about how your time is spent and protecting wellness by establishing healthy boundaries. Many well-meaning supervisors are simply not aware of the pressures they are placing on staff members or that the tools for them to succeed have not been provided. Employees need to understand that it it falls on them to communicate openly with supervisors regarding the nees for support or tools that will allow them to succeed.
Burnout prevention can involve the following actions:
- A change of perspective. Instead of seeing work demands as impossible to complete, view them as challenges to embrace and conquer. Ask yourself how you can shift a negative attitude toward one of positive productivity.
- Prioritize self-care. In the whirlwind of life, no one will carve out opportunities for self-care for a person. It falls directly on each individual to incorporate wellness activities and balance into the workweek.
- Have outlets for stress. It is essential to have a network of support in one’s life, whether that is a spouse, a best friend, a support group, or a therapist. These individuals can provide a safe place to vent and share frustrations, while acquiring helpful tips for better managing stress.
- Identify time-wasters. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to feeling overwhelmed. Over use of social media during the workday, spending too much time socializing at work, or refusing to delegate routine tasks all sap time that could better be used towards productive endeavors.
Treatment for Burnout
When stress levels remain perpetually high and daily functioning becomes impaired, it is important to seek out the professional help needed to reclaim wellness and balance in life. Depending on the degree of burnout or whether there is a mental health disorder involved, the individual has the option of receiving treatment in an outpatient setting or a residential setting. Generally, the longer the mental health disorder has endured, and the more it has impaired functioning, a residential program offers the best venue for treatment. An outpatient approach is fine when the problem is less entrenched.
Treatment for burnout can involve the following elements:
- Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides a short-term evidence-based approach that helps the individual examine dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns that lead to burnout.
- Medication. In some cases, antidepressants or sedatives may be warranted for helping to managing the symptoms of burnout or accompanying depression or anxiety.
- Addiction treatment. When excessive stress and burnout has resulted in a substance use disorder the individual will benefit from progressing through a dual diagnosis addiction recovery program.
- Holistic therapy. Learning how to regulate stress is integral to treatment for burnout. These activities include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, massage, and other relaxation inducing activities.
Elevation Behavioral Health Treats Burnout and Related Mental Health Disorders
Elevation Behavioral Health is a Los Angeles-based residential wellness center that offers a diverse array of customized therapies for individuals suffering from burnout. The intimate, private residential program offers luxury accommodations and amenities in a highly desirable setting. The expert psychiatric staff provides the best blend of evidence-based therapies and holistic therapies to guide the individual back to a balanced state of wellness. For questions, such as is burnout a mental illness or more information about the program, please contact our team at (888) 643-7135.