The World Health Assembly in Geneva, which finished yesterday (28 May 2019) has for the first-time recognised burn-out. This means it can be included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.
According to the classification, burn-out refers specifically to it occurring in the work context and it cannot be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
This is a positive step forward for people who suffer from workplace burn-out. It provides recognition that a growing number of working people are suffering from it and that it may require medical intervention. Of course, counsellors and psychotherapists working outside of the medical model have always recognised burn-out as a legitimate condition and treated it as such. However, with this recognition from the medical model, people may be more inclined to talk about it and seek help before it develops into a mental health condition which can be harder to recover from.
According to WHO ‘burn-out’ has three defining co-occurring features;
While no mention has been made of a duration for experiencing these co-occurring features, an indicative time frame may be anywhere between 2 weeks (as it is for depression) and 6 months (as it is for anxiety).
The WHO defines burn-out as a condition “conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
This means an employee will experience burn-out when they have exhausted all of their resiliency skills to productively manage the stress they experience in their workplace. As everyone has their own tolerance level for stress, a depletion of resiliency skills can occur at any time after experiencing workplace stress. Once those resiliency skills are exhausted and are not able to be ‘topped up’ burn-out starts to develop.
In my experience, it is hard for professionals to recognise burn-out in themselves until they ‘crash and burn’. This happens mainly because they aren’t looking for it in themselves, they are too busy juggling everything to get through their day, week and month.
Burn-out prevention strategies differ person to person however there are a few simple principles you can use to work out what activities might work for you.
The next iteration of the ICD, ICD-11, will come into effect in January 2022. This gives us plenty of time to get used to the idea that burn-out is real and happens due to workplace stress, for those who never believed in it!