How to Tell if You are Depressed or Burned out


Have you ever woken up in the morning, stumbled to the coffee machine, and wondered if you were depressed, burnt out, or just really, really tired? In today’s fast-paced world, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of work, stress, and exhaustion. Feeling down or overwhelmed at times is a normal part of life, but when these feelings persist, they can be a sign of a more serious condition such as depression or burnout.

But how do you tell if you are dealing with depression or burnout, or both? While these two conditions can share similar symptoms, they are different and require different types of treatment. In this article, we will discuss the key differences between depression and burnout and how to tell which one you may be experiencing.


What is depression or burnout?

Depression is recognized as a significant mental health issue by the World Health Organization. According to the WHO, depression is a common mental disorder that can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to carry out everyday activities. Depression can be like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. Everything around you looks a little bit blurry, and no matter how hard you try to focus, you can’t seem to see things clearly. It’s like you’re moving through life in slow motion, and nothing seems to bring you joy.


On the other hand, WHO defines burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The organization identifies three dimensions of burnout: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of cynicism or negativity related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout, on the other hand, can feel like being in a video game where you’re stuck on the same level, doing the same thing over and over again, and you can’t seem to move on to the next challenge. Recognizing emotional exhaustion, one of the key symptoms of burnout, is an essential mental health check.

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Depression vs burnout: What are the key differences?

How do you tell if you are depressed or burned out? Here are some key differences that can help you identify whether you are experiencing depression or burnout:

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sadness or feeling down
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


Symptoms of Burnout:

  • Exhaustion, both physical and emotional
  • Feeling cynical or detached from work or relationships
  • Reduced productivity or effectiveness
  • Increased negativity or irritability
  • Loss of enjoyment or satisfaction in work or other activities
  • Feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or trapped
  • Decreased motivation or initiative

What to do if you are depressed or burned out?

Whether you’re experiencing depression or burnout, there are steps you can take to improve your well-being.

For depression, firstly, seek professional help from a healthcare professional such as a doctor or therapist. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options, which may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

It’s also important to take care of yourself by prioritizing self-care. This can include getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. Self-care activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or spending time with friends can also help you feel better.

Staying connected with friends and loved ones is also crucial. Depression can make you feel isolated and alone, but it’s important to stay connected with others who can provide emotional support and help you through tough times.


In some cases, medication may be necessary to help manage depression. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of medication and whether it’s right for you.

For burnout, it is important to prioritize self-care, seek support, address the underlying causes, and develop strategies to manage stressors and improve your overall well-being.

Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor, highlights the impact of burnout on individuals, particularly Black women, and emphasizes the need for self-care, social support, and addressing workplace culture and policies to promote employee well-being.

Research has also shown that:

  • Taking breaks can improve productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Self-care activities like exercise and meditation can reduce burnout and improve well-being.
  • Setting boundaries can improve job satisfaction and reduce work-family conflict.
  • Prioritizing tasks can lead to reduced stress and increased productivity.
  • Social support is associated with reduced burnout.


Remember, it’s important to prioritize your mental health and take the necessary steps to recover. With the right support and resources, you can regain your sense of motivation, purpose, and fulfillment. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help, and remember that recovery is possible.

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