FAQ: How Is Depression Different From Burnout?

9 answers | Last updated: Sep 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How is depression different from burnout?


Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

Depression is a physical illness. Burnout is an emotional fatigue triggered by ongoing and severe stress. Burnout can definitely lead to depression, though, so it's important to pay attention to it.

Burnout is caused by demands that continue day after day, often without a clear end in sight. This leads to feelings of being not only overworked but also unappreciated. As demands continue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, along with a loss of motivation, can result. The person feels overwhelmed, worn out, and more and more unhappy and detached from others. That's why caregivers are so vulnerable to burnout.

Burnout is more likely when you're not getting a great deal of social support, when you're worried about someone else's safety (or your own), and when there's confusion and conflict about how the work at hand should best be done.

Unlike someone who's depressed, someone who's burned out can still experience pleasure if he or she is taken out of the stressful situation. (A hallmark symptom of depression is the inability to feel any pleasure.) But if the factors causing burnout continue without relief, this stress can trigger depression.


Community Answers

Ca-claire answered...

Best advice I've heard in a long time! Very important for caregivers to pay attention to. Thank you for such a succinct article about the difference between the two, and how burnout WILL lead to depression if ignored! Thank you!


Aniche answered...

What is depression


Teebabe answered...

Thanks I needed that info.


Nielpa answered...

I thank you too. I am sitting in that boat right now. To top it off my eldest son is now fighting cancer and facing amputation of his left leg. I am disabled and fighting yet another round of Lymphedema and cellulitis. Not easy and sometimes I would love to crawl into a hole and let someone else take the reins. Unfortunately, I am an only child and a single mother. Thanks for posting this. I definately needed to see it. Sorry if I rambled on.


Corrine answered...

I definitely am at burn-out city. My brother is going to take her to his home for one month. My husband and I need it desperately!!! I love my mom very much, but as you said day in and out. And she has again fallen , this time 2 times in one week. I feel so helpless. She doesn't think she needs the walker sometimes, and then forgets it, or just can't see well, no sight in right eye, and left eye is also beginning macular degeneration and glucoma. And she won't do walking to keep strength up, and not eating very well also. I just take a day at a time, do the best I can, and PRAY for strength, and patience. Moderate dementia is getting worse also, and with hearing aids, still trouble. And draws into herself. I can't remember, she'd say. Lord, Help us all as we face these trials.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I took care of my younger sister who has alzheimers for four years and it was 24-7, no other family to help. Finally I realized that I just couldn't do it any longer. As much as I love her, it truly was adversely effecting my health and I was told by my doctor to change the situation or I would end up being the one who would have to be taken care of. I found a nursing home that she and I both liked, she's been there for 18 months. Has it been a lot of relief as I thought it would be? Not really. They call me continuously for everything from a sneeze to a change of medication, doctor appointments, mood changes, falls etc. I go there regularly to make sure she is being taken care of, which is necessary. I find I am still doing a lot for her, and have to stay on-call constantly. I love my sister but I am still worn out with it all and really need a vacation. There doesn't seem to be a good answer. If you have someone to take her for a month, at least that will give you some rest But I would consider a nursing home. It is somewhat easier for you, and I suspect for her too, because we can't do what a staff of people can do for them, and we are only wearing ourselves out trying. I would not want my children under that burden if it were me. I would want to be in the nursing home, the best one you can find, of course, and with regular visits from you. There are no perfect answers.


Redneckangel answered...

To anonymous caregiver: Nursing Home & care facilities call for every little change, bump or bruise because they don't want to liable for any "surprises". You do not have to be there to follow-up. I suggest you get a cell phone, give the home your number & take a vacation. That way you can take the call, thank them for notifying you of 'whatever', ask a few appropriate questions if necessary & even add a few comments or information for the caller that may be helpful.-- Like; "Mom's skin is very fragile & easy to burse--it is more important that you catch her from falling than worry about a few superficial burses that grabbing her may have caused".--Then make a mental note of who called & follow up when you go in, even a week or two later! It is only a problem if it becomes a pattern.


Ca-claire answered...

To the Anonymous caregiver - just because you receive a call from the care home, does not mean that you need to rush on over to see your sister. Start by evaluating each call - Did my sister fall and hit her head? - no, just bruises on her arm or legs. Check on her on your next regularly scheduled visit. If she hit her head - where, is there swelling or bruising, does she seem alert and oriented? If not, or if she is 70 years old or older, she needs to go to the ER for a CAT scan.

Did she have an adverse reaction to medication? - go over now. Did she have an emotion outburst - has she calmed down, or is she inconsolable? You will start to realize that you don't have to be there for every little thing. Let her get comfortable in her environment. Visit on a schedule 3 or 4 days a week, spend quality time with her. You will learn by trial and error when you need to go over, and when it's just an informational call. The care home HAS to notify the responsible family member when certain things happen, like bruising. Doesn't mean you have to come check - chances are the bruise will still be there at your next visit. A skin tear? I usually went over because the aids did not really understand how best to bandage aging skin.

Take care of you, so that you are there for the long haul.