Feeling stressed out? In a first, WHO confirms burnout is a medical condition

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Published: May 28, 2019 1:26:44 PM

With the WHO listing 'burnout' as a medical diagnosis for the first time, we may be able to battle this condition early on and return to life totally refreshed.

Stress, Burnout, WHO, exhaustion , fatigue, World Health Organization, International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Herbert Freudenberger, psychologist, depressionNote that the term ‘burnout’ used by WHO embodies the result of a long term, deep seated stress that has not been dealt with, either by the one who suffered the stress nor by the employer.

How often do you start your day with a feeling of exhaustion and fatigue? You are not alone. In a first, the World Health Organization has incorporated the term ‘burnout’ in its latest International Statistical Classification of Diseases and related Health problems, which is a handbook of recognized medical conditions.

Note that the term ‘burnout’ used by WHO embodies the result of a long term, deep seated stress that has not been dealt with, either by the one who suffered the stress nor by the employer.

So, how do you figure out whether the WHO classification of the term ‘burnout’ applies to you or someone at the workplace? Time to dig deeper to gain clarity!

Burnout, according to WHO’s classification, comprises of three specific components as follows:

1. The feeling of exhaustion or energy depletion (Sounds familiar, right?)

2. Increased mental distancing from one’s job or feeling of cynicism or even negativism pertaining to one’s job.

3. Reduced professional efficacy.

In recent years, more and more Indian professionals have been reporting or discussing mental health issues which include work-related stress as one of their key pain points, besides loneliness and depression.

The first time ‘burnout’ marked its entry in the medical field was in 1974. This marks the year when Herbert Freudenberger, a psychologist, inaugurated a formal and comprehensive study on the subject with a scientific article published during the same year.

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Further, a 12-stage model pertaining to burnout was formulated by Herbert Freudenberger and Gain North, which they outlined as follows:

1.Compulsion to prove one’s worth at work in an obsessive manner.

2. Unable to switch off from work.

3. Neglecting one self to perform at work – be it sleeping properly, eating well or sleeping sufficiently.

4. Conflict- displacement begins to play out, leaving the person easily jittery and cranky.

5. Work becomes the only focus excluding family and friends.

6. Denial of problems.

7. Withdrawal from social life, activities or interactions.

8. Odd behavioral changes with family and friends.

9. Seeing oneself and others as no longer valued and not able to perceive one’s own needs.

10. Feeling an inner emptiness.

11. Feeling depressed.

12. Total physical and mental collapse that require immediate medical attention.

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Burnout is increasingly common and yet there is very little discussion or debate among key stakeholders on how to resolve this at every possible stage.

While companies in India are coming up with innovative ways to engage with employees, the importance of preventive measures including prompt medical attention to ensure that an employee does not reach a ‘burnout’ stage is missing from the HR ecosystem altogether.

With the WHO listing ‘burnout’ as a medical diagnosis for the first time, we may be able to battle this condition early on and return to life totally refreshed.

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