Burnout is now classified as a syndrome by the World Health Organization

The agency describes it as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.


Doctors can now diagnose people with burnout.

Burnout, which has generally been described as a feeling of extreme work stress in the cultural context, is now an official medical diagnosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), a handbook that guides medical providers in diagnosing diseases.

WHO describes burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It falls under the category “problems associated with employment or unemployment.” Burnout was included in the same category in ICD-10, but the definition is now more detailed.

According to the ICD-11 handbook, doctors can diagnose people with burnout if they show the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The handbook also notes that burnout shouldn’t be confused with adjustment disorder, stress-associated disorders, as well as anxiety and mood disorders. Additionally, while some people also feel burnt out in their home life, the handbook states that WHO’s classification of burnout is solely about work and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations.

In a press release, WHO made it clear that burnout is an occupational phenomenon and is not classified as a medical condition.

According to a review of literature by Linda and Torsten Heinemann published in the journal SAGE Open in 2017, burnout is not yet considered an actual mental disorder partly because much of the research on burnout focused on “causes and associated factors” rather than on attempts to develop specific diagnostic criteria.

The Heinemanns also pointed out in that the question of whether researchers could differentiate depression and burnout is also a major obstacle in elevating burnout to a disease.

Meanwhile, WHO recently announced they would start to devise standardized methods for diagnosing burnout, and create “evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.”

Sources: CNN, People
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