You Call It Burnout. These Scientists Might Call It Depression.

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Work is so hard sometimes, isn’t it? You’ve got to juggle multiple projects, make sure you’re keeping your boss happy with your output, try to constantly overachieve so that you can argue for a raise, and sometimes, you’ve got to deal with doing mindless, clerical stuff you feel is beneath your job title. Combined with Americans’ propensity to work long hours at their physical workplace, then take their work home and send emails from their beds after hours, this lifestyle often leads to one thing: burnout.

Medicine has long separated burnout from depression, qualifying the former as more exhaustion-related rather than a clinical psychological problem characterized by chronic anxiety and feelings of sadness, but a recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences indicates it might be time for us to rethink that division.

Researchers surveyed 1,386 teachers — 75 percent of whom were women — across 18 American states. They tended to be in their early- to mid-40s and had taught for an average of 14.4 years. The psychologists, who were from the City College of New York and the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, administered questionnaires on burnout and depression and ranked them from mild to severe. They also tested participants on classically depressive traits: “fixating on problems, pessimism, self-blame, and setting impossibly high standards for oneself,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

After all that testing, here’s what the researchers found: 10 percent of women and 7 percent of men were suffering from burnout; also, 10 percent of men and 10 percent of women were probably suffering from depression. But the intriguing patterns were among those with burnout: The research team found that severe and moderately severe depressive symptoms were reported frequently by this group. Even more telling, every person reporting burnout also reported depressive symptoms.

It’s not the first time the medical community has connected the dots between burnout and depression. In 2014, for example, Science of Us covered a study in the International Journal of Stress Management that came up with similar results among schoolteachers. There’s reason to believe that burnout can be — and often is — separate from depression. But the overlap in both of these studies indicates that today, given the dominance of work in our lives and the associated anxiety that comes with it, there might be reason to be wary of an extended period of burnout and check in to see if it’s also depression.