WHO clarifies burn-out an ‘occupational phenomenon,’ not disease

OCTOBER 27, 2022

UPDATE: The World Health Organization clarified on May 28 that “burn-out” remains an “occupational phenomenon” that could lead someone to seek care but it is not considered a medical condition.

After decades of studies and debates, the state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by overwork or prolonged stress is now recognized as an official medical diagnosis by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the recent update of its ICD list, called ICD-11, WHO stated that burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This update can be found on the catalog’s employment and unemployment section.

Burnout can be diagnosed through three symptoms: (1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (2) feelings of negativism, cynicism, or mental distance from one or related to one’s job; and (3) reduced professional efficacy.

The document added that “burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” Researchers said should first check adjustment and mood disorders before diagnosing someone with burnout.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The inclusion of burnout in the ICD list was drafted and proposed to the WHO last year. It was officially approved last Saturday.

The first formal inclusion of burnout in the field of medical research was known to be started by American psychologist and psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger who wrote a scientific article in 1974 that gave a systematic description and analysis of the concept. “Burnout is becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources in the workplace,” he said. His work marked the beginning of studies on burnout.

It was also Freudenberger who gave preventive measures to burnout which he believed is “particularly linked to specific working environments and organizational contexts.” He proposed “shorter working hours, regular job rotation, and frequent supervision and staff training.”

The updated catalog of diseases and injuries also classified “compulsive sexual behavior” and video game addiction as mental health diseases.

The ICD-11 will formally take effect in January 2022.



Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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