Burnout Is Now A Legitimate Diagnosis, Says World Health Organization

Burnout is now classified as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed," according to WHO.

The stress, depression and lack of feeling in control that comes with burnout are finally being formally recognized by the medical community: Burnout is now an official workplace syndrome.

The International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, the World Health Organization’s handbook that helps medical providers diagnose diseases, classifies burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Many initial reports characterized the classification as a medical condition, but WHO clarified Tuesday afternoon in a tweet that burnout is an “occupational phenomenon,” not a medical condition.

Symptoms include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

The ICD-11 notes that burnout is specific to occupation and “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Research on burnout dates back to a 1974 study on the state of burnout by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, according to CNN. Since then, while burnout has been widely discussed as a problem in society, it hasn’t been taken seriously or viewed as a legitimate medical condition.

Most recently, burnout has been closely associated with the millennial generation. In January, Anne Helen Petersen penned a viral BuzzFeed article titled, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.”

“Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time,” Petersen wrote. “Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us.”

While some critics argue that the term is becoming an excuse for laziness, the new classification helps to validate people who need medical assistance to manage their burnout.

This article has been updated with additional information from WHO that clarifies burnout is considered a “workplace syndrome,” and not a medical condition.

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