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Factors that Drive Depression and Burnout Often Similar

A recent study finds that personal and workplace factors predicting burnout largely overlap with factors that contribute to depressive symptoms.

The new study, which appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, was led by Constance Guille, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, and Lisa Rotenstein, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, among others.

“There is a long-standing thought that burnout is associated with workplace factors and that depressive symptoms are associated with workplace factors but also heavily influenced by personal factors,” explained Rotenstein.

“We found that the factors that drive burnout are much more closely related to the factors that drive depressive symptoms than previously realized.”

The study surveyed 1,552 medical interns entering residency programs at 68 different institutions about depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, as well as about potential contributing factors.

Depressive symptoms were measured by a standard 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire, while emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were measured with a 9-item abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Workload and learning environment satisfaction were assessed with a standardized instrument. Personal factors assessed included age, gender, ethnicity, relationship status, sexual orientation, parenting status, specialty, self-reported history of depression, early life stress and neuroticism score.

The study found significant overlap between factors that contribute to depressive symptoms and those that contribute to burnout, with about two-thirds of variance in both depressive symptoms and burnout attributable to personal factors, and one-third of the variance in these measures attributable to workplace factors.

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

With more than 142 definitions circulating in the literature, the definition of burnout has historically been unclear. This lack of clear definition has led to highly variable rates of burnout being reported among medical interns, residents and attending physicians. In contrast, depressive symptoms are well-defined and have been clinically validated.

The results of this study suggest that assessing for depressive symptoms may be a validated, standardized alternative to assessing for burnout among medical personnel.

They also underscore that interventions that help address burnout may be effective in addressing depressive symptoms and vice versa. Examples of such interventions include leveraging resources such as scribes to address documentation burdens, time banking for physician service and resources such as childcare to take stress off those physicians with familial obligations.

“Previous to this work, depression and burnout were conceptualized as separate entities with different factors contributing to these outcomes,” explained Guille.

“This work suggests there is substantial overlap between both workplace and personal factors that contribute to an increase in both depressive symptoms and burnout.”

Source: Medical University of South Carolina

Factors that Drive Depression and Burnout Often Similar

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Factors that Drive Depression and Burnout Often Similar. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/04/30/factors-that-drive-depression-and-burnout-often-similar/156145.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Apr 2020 (Originally: 30 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Apr 2020
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