Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From burnout to depression and back

Frequently, it is on the news that the number of job burnout and depression diagnoses is increasing more and more. We are told that our risk of suffering from one or both increases and that we are to be careful. But what are these diseases, and is there a connection between them? What can we do in order to decrease our risk of suffering from one of them or both?

In their study, Sharon Toker from Tel Aviv University and Michal Biron from the University of Haifa studied 1,632 employees’ mental health for a longer period of time. They assessed levels of job burnout (the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest) and depression (a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being) and found them to be closely related: an increase in depression from Time 1 to Time 2 predicted an increase in job burnout from Time 2 to Time 3 and vice versa. Additionally, physical activity had an impact on depression and job burnout: the increase in depression and job burnout was lowest to non-existent in those individuals who exercised on a regular basis.

Depression and burnout are related, but they are not the same. Whereas the latter is strain due to the social situation at work, the former is more a global state involving for example negative emotions, loss of interest and difficulty with cognitive functions like concentration or memory. However, they both involve energetic and psychological resources, and that is what they have in common.

The original article was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, and there is an outline of it on the Occupational Research Digest blog.

This piece of research is in line with many findings we reported in previous posts. Firstly, how we experience our job has a great impact on our health. For example, we learned that support from our colleagues decreases our mortality. Secondly, physical exercise is again and again shown to be beneficial not only for our physical, but also for our mental health.

This means poor mental health can really become a vicious circle that is hard to escape from. When we are not well, it is usually not just one domain of our lives that is affected. This makes it even more important to take all the findings on what can improve our well-being into consideration and use them to maintain or improve our mental health. There are so many interventions that you can really choose what you like best. Exercise, meditation, spending time with our loved ones, the Three Blessings… Enjoy!

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