A great challenge is for the stigma to be addressed, particularly where the employee adopts the belief that burnout means "my organisation burned me out" and I don’t have to take any responsibility for it. pic: pexels.com

During a recent presentation at The University of Stellenbosch Business School’s Corporate Mental Health Awareness Day in Durban, Psychiatrist, Dr Renata Schoeman, spoke about how burnout is a form of depression, why you shouldn't ignore it and how it can kill you.

She said in Japan, they have a concept - Kiroshi - which is death by overwork. “This was where they saw an increase in suicides, heart attacks and stress-related conditions that kill people, where there would be no other risk factor than they merely work too hard.”

In South Africa, she said, burnout is not a psychiatric diagnosis because we use the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to diagnose.

“Burnout is not a condition in there. It falls into different categories, so it will be an adjustment disorder, or it would be called depression. Whereas in the Scandinavian countries, they use the International Classification of Disease where burnout is included. It’s not that South Africa does not recognise burnout, but here it’s not a formal diagnoses,” she said.

Schoeman said a major problem is when burnout is not recognised and you develop depression: “One of the symptoms, if you are very depressed, can be suicidal thoughts and even suicidal actions and it can eventually kill you. With other people, by having burnout, they may start to use alcohol more than usual, or even self-medicating with it.

“So all the physical complications of alcohol abuse set in, which could lead to deteriorated health and even death. But it may also be that they are driving under the influence of alcohol and may have an accident and kill someone or kill themselves. So in that way, not taking note of the potential complications of burnout can cause you to die,” said Schoeman.

A great challenge is for the stigma to be addressed. “Particularly where the employee adopts the belief that burnout means my organisation burned me out and I don’t have to take any responsibility for it. Research shows that the employee needs to also take responsibility,” she said.

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