Burnout stress or depression? What’s the difference? Tips from The Skill Collective, psychologists in Subiaco Perth


We can all feel stressed from time to time due to work. When this stress continues for a period of time, leads to feelings of exhaustion, or makes you hate your job - it might be a sign that you’re experiencing burnout. Unfortunately, this experience is all too common, with even the Word Health Organisation recognising burnout as a syndrome in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). [1] But what exactly is burnout?

WHAT’s the difference between stress, burnout, and depression?

Burnout is a particular form of long-term, work-related stress. however, burnout isn’t the same as simply feeling stressed. Similarly, burnout and depression share many symptoms, but are not the same condition. Here are some helpful definitions to highlight the differences:

  • Stress is when the perceived strain exceeds the perceived resources available for coping.[2]

  • Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic, emotional, and interpersonal stressors on the job. It’s characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and diminished personal accomplishment.[3]

  • Depression, on the other hand, is an intense, prolonged period of low mood that interferences with daily life. While it’s common for those experiencing burnout to also experience symptoms of depression, the key difference is that burnout is centred on work issues, while depression affects several areas of life.


Burnout is characterised by the following three factors: [1]

  • Feeling low in energy or exhausted

  • Increased mental distance from work, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to work

  • Reduced efficiency when it comes to your work.

Importantly, the term burnout only applies in an occupational context, not other areas of life.

Which professions experience burnout?

Burnout can affect anyone, with some studies suggesting it affects over 25% of the working population. [4] However, there is some research to suggest that burnout might not affect all occupations equally. Here’s a picture of how it might look for different professions:

Burnout in lawyers

Burnout is particularly common in lawyers, particularly in litigious lawyers. On top of this, lawyers whose jobs involve higher effort-reward ratios, psychological demands, and effort have been demonstrated to experience higher levels of burnout. [5]

Burnout in doctors, nurses, and other health professionals

Burnout is common in health professionals, with research suggesting it affects as many as 44% of doctors [4], and around 30% of nurses [6]. In fact, almost all health professionals involved in caregiving are at risk of burnout and this has consequences not only for the health professional’s wellbeing, but also the impact it has on the level of care provided to patients.


Burnout has been identified as a significant issue for students across the world, with one study finding approximately 16% of students experienced high levels of burnout [7] (if you’re looking for more on burnout in students, check out our Nimble Noodle course).


Many athletes experience burnout, which in extreme cases can lead to disengagement with sport altogether. Research has shown that perfectionism and motivation play complex roles in the development of burnout in athletes. [10]

What leads to burnout?

There are different factors that can lead to burnout but we can roughly group them into personal or work factors.

  • Work factors leading to burnout include challenges such as workload, job control, job satisfaction, and conflict. Unfortunately, in many instances, such work factors lie beyond an individual’s control and thus may promote a sense of helplessness when it comes to improving burnout.

  • There are, however, personal factors that lead to burnout. Changing these factors are more within the control of the individual. These include perfectionism (particularly where perfectionism centres around concerns about making mistakes [11]), problems setting boundaries with others or yourself, negative thinking styles, and unhelpful thinking styles. It is well worthwhile speaking with one of our team to work on those personal factors that lead to burnout.

You can read more about factors that lead to burnout here.


There are many options to help you recover from burnout. The following options may be helpful:

  • COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT): CBT has ben shown to be an effective treatment for burnout and may be effective in promoting return to work [12]. CBT for burnout focuses on shifting negative thoughts to more balanced ones, as well as drawing on skills training (e.g. time management, assertive communication) and improving your body’s ability to relax and cope with stress.

  • MINDFULNESS-BASED COGNITIVE THERAPY (MIBCT) and ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY (ACT): These and other ‘new wave’ therapies are based on the principles of CBT. While CBT typically involves directly challenging thinking styles, these approaches instead encourage the individual to change their relationship with the negative thoughts so that they have less power over the person. Why not check out our tip sheet below to look at managing burnout from an ACT perspective?

Planet burnout tips for resilience and recovery including perfectionism and imposter syndrome by The Skill Collective Psychologists and Counselling in Subiaco Perth.png

Looking for self-help resources for burnout? Try our workbook Planet Burnout. Written by our clinical psychologist Dr Joyce Chong, it outlines:

  • What’s at the core of your burnout? We look at how identity leads us down the path to burnout, addressing how perfectionism and imposter syndrome contribute to overwhelm.

  • What role mindset plays in our burnout, and how to shift mindset to decrease overwhelm.

  • How lifestyle factors impact on burnout and the essentials to help you get back on track with your wellbeing.

  • How to stay productive in a sustainable manner that works for you and your wellbeing.

Learn more about Planet Burnout and grab your copy here.


And if you’d like a tailored plan for managing burnout why not Contact Us for a tailored approach? Our team members have years of experience working with burnout and other performance issues.



[1] World Health Organization. (2018). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th Revision). Retrieved from https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/129180281

[2] Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer publishing company.

[3] Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology52(1), 397-422. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

[4] Shanafelt, T. D., West, C. P., Sinsky, C., Trockel, M., Tutty, M., Satele, D. V., ... & Dyrbye, L. N. (2019, February). Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2017. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Elsevier. doi 10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.10.023

[5] Tsai, F. J., Huang, W. L., & Chan, C. C. (2009). Occupational stress and burnout of lawyers. Journal of occupational health51(5), 443-450. doi: 10.1539/joh.L8179

[6] Gómez-Urquiza, J. L., Emilia, I., Albendín-García, L., Vargas-Pecino, C., Ortega-Campos, E. M., & Cañadas-De la Fuente, G. A. (2017). Prevalence of burnout syndrome in emergency nurses: A meta-analysis. Critical care nurse37(5), e1-e9. doi: 10.4037/ccn2017508

[7] Luckas, A., Romo, L., Brumboiu, I., Boussouf, N., Kern, L., Tavolacci, M. P., & Ladner, J. (2017). Burn out in university students: An international multi-institutional study. European Journal of Public Health27(suppl_3). doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckx189.187

[8] Roskam, I., Raes, M. E., & Mikolajczak, M. (2017). Exhausted parents: development and preliminary validation of the parental burnout inventory. Frontiers in psychology8, 163. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00163

[9] Mikolajczak, M., Brianda, M. E., Avalosse, H., & Roskam, I. (2018). Consequences of parental burnout: its specific effect on child neglect and violence. Child abuse & neglect80, 134-145. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.03.025

[10] Madigan, D. J., Stoeber, J., & Passfield, L. (2016). Motivation mediates the perfectionism–burnout relationship: A three-wave longitudinal study with junior athletes. Journal of sport and exercise psychology38(4), 341-354. doi 10.1123/jsep.2015-0238

[11] Hill, A. P., & Curran, T. (2016). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review20(3), 269-288. doi: 10.1177/1088868315596286

[12] Perski, O., Grossi, G., Perski, A., & Niemi, M. (2017). A systematic review and meta‐analysis of tertiary interventions in clinical burnout. Scandinavian journal of psychology58(6), 551-561. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12398