A psychiatrist explains the difference between burnout and depression

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Mental health has been taboo for a long time and is an important topic today, especially in the world of work. However, many people confuse the various disorders. Anxiety and anxiety, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia or depression and burn-out. These two mental health problems are common but have little in common. It is important to distinguish between them since they do not have the same symptoms, and the treatment of one is ineffective for the other.

What is a burnout?
Unlike depression, burn-out is a disorder, not a disease. “The difference is important. It’s like confusing a spasm with a furnace. One is treated with a simple massage, while the other is deeper,” says Dr. Alain Meunier, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at the Centre du Burn Out, in an interview with Ça M’intéresse.

“Burn-out is a disorder of the plasticity of the brain,” explains the doctor. “To give a picture, the brain begins to work at high speeds, consuming all the neurotransmitters that fuel immediate memory, alertness, concentration, and organizational thinking.”

In France, it is more commonly referred to as exhaustion syndrome, but the English term is more “indicative” in the eyes of the doctor. “It’s more triggering, you’re talking about people who ‘burn out’ at work, who burn out their neurotransmitters in the long run.”

“There are several ways to burn out. Some people enter this spiral by eliminating more and more elements from their lives that are not related to work, others enter through physical discomfort, functional pathologies: back pain, abdominal pain. And then there are those who suddenly step in, who climb to a stage to give a speech and fail to speak, who get dizzy or who break out in tears while having a conversation that would not have been necessary,” he explains.

It’s not the same as depression
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines depressive disorder as “common mental disorders affecting all populations. They are characterized by persistent sadness or a permanent loss of the ability to feel interest or pleasure in activities that previously provided pleasure”.

The disease does not necessarily have to be related to work, even though problems at work can also lead to depression, the organization explains.

The disease can be triggered by trauma (separation, death of a loved one, loss of employment, conflict) or by a chronic or previous problem (sickness, addiction, disability, violence, neglect), according to the Assurance Maladie. In contrast to burn-out, there is a genetic factor here.

Depression and burn-out: opposing symptoms “These are two completely different things,” says the health expert. “Both claim different places in the brain.”

Especially at the level of symptoms, the difference between these two mental health problems becomes apparent. The manifestations are very different, even though both depression and burn-out have psychological suffering. And this, too, is not perceived in the same way, “People who have experienced both will confirm it,” assures Dr. Meunier.

The distinction is already visible when the problem arises. A person who experiences burnout will not be aware of it, while patients who suffer from depression are aware of their illness, as explained on the Centre du Burn Out website.

Burnout is widespread in the world of work and is expressed in hyperactivity, problems with the hierarchy of tasks and overinvestment in its tasks. Conversely, depression is accompanied by absence, trouble, loss of orientation, disinterest, avoidance and escape strategies.

The time is perceived differently by the affected: when burn out, it runs too fast, while in depression, it is too slow. In both cases, there are sleep disorders: the former will suffer from sleep disturbances, while the latter will have a greater likelihood of suffering from insomnia.

No antidepressants against burn-out Since the problems are not the same, the methods of treatment are also different. Depression is treated with psychotherapy and the prescription of antidepressants. The latter “does not work on burn-outs or is even counterproductive”. In this disorder, the only effective medications are tranquillizers that can help with the anxiety and panic attacks that some patients experience.

Neuroscientific instruments can be effective, such as repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This stimulates a very specific area of the brain, the area of cognition, using electromagnetic waves to reproduce neurotransmitters.

This instrument can be complemented by mild methods “to defend against stress”, such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness, adds Dr. Meunier. When these do not work, some medical centres, such as the Centre du Burn-Out, offer a method called neurofeedback, in which the brain learns to regulate itself thanks to the plasticity of the brain.

“Burn-out is a dissociation between body and head, people are deprived of their bodies, which explains the functional diseases. That is why we offer psychomotor consultations to bring the body and mind back into balance.”

If burn-out is addressed properly, it is well treatable, the psychiatrist assures. “H, the Ministry of Labour recommends taking a break of two to three months, depending on the severity of the disorder.”

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