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The relationship between burnout and depressive symptoms

Do you feel burned out? The contributors may be more related to depression than you think. Researchers found that similar factors cause both medical internal burnout and depression. The article was written by Constance Guille, MD and Lisa Rotenstein, among others. According to Rotenstein, these findings help correct a long-held misconception about burnout and depression.

“It has long been thought that burnout is associated with workplace factors and that depressive symptoms are associated with workplace factors, but are also strongly influenced by personal factors,” explains Rotenstein. “We found that the factors that cause burnout are much more closely related to the factors that cause depressive symptoms than previously believed.”

In this study, Rotenstein and Guille find that there is significant overlap between the factors that predict burnout and depressive symptoms. The study examined 1,552 medical interns undergoing residency programs at 68 different institutions about depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, as well as possible contributing factors.

The study found a significant overlap between factors contributing to depressive symptoms and factors contributing to burnout, with approximately two-thirds of the variance in both depressive symptoms and burnout attributable to personal factors, and one-third of the variance in these measures are attributable to workplace factors.

With over 142 definitions circulating in the literature, the definition of burnout has historically been unclear. This lack of clear definition has resulted in widely varying burnout rates being reported among medical interns, residents and treating physicians. In contrast, depressive symptoms are well defined and clinically validated. The results of this study suggest that assessing depressive symptoms may be a validated, standardized alternative to assessing burnout in medical personnel. They also emphasize that interventions that help address burnout can be effective in addressing depressive symptoms and vice versa.

For Guille, the takeaway message from this study is clear.

“Prior to this work, depression and burnout were conceptualized as separate entities with different factors contributing to these results,” explains Guille. “This work suggests that there is significant overlap between both workplace and personal factors that contribute to an increase in both depressive symptoms and burnout.”