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World Health Organization To Officially Recognize Burnout As A Medical Condition


Rachel Baxter

Copy Editor & Staff Writer

Burnout due to work can lead to insomnia and disrupted sleep. Arsenni Palivoda/Shutterstock

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), officially recognizing it as a medical condition. The decision was made by scientists at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, which draws to a close today.

According to the WHO, burnout can be defined as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The condition can be characterized by three features: "1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy."


The WHO points out that their definition of burnout is specific to work, and does not include burnout caused by other aspects of life. Adding burnout to the latest ICD, ICD-11, will hopefully help doctors to diagnose and treat the condition and encourage employers to better support their staff.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain factors that put you at a higher risk of suffering burnout. These include having a poor work/life balance, having a high workload, working overtime, working in a “helping profession” like health care, being a perfectionist, and having a monotonous job.

Mentally, you may feel helpless, trapped, and cynical about work. You might also feel increasingly unsatisfied and detached from the world, lacking motivation and doubting yourself. Those affected often procrastinate more, isolate themselves from others, and even misuse alcohol and drugs as a way to cope.

The physical results of burnout range from excessive stress and fatigue to heart disease, high blood pressure, muscle pains, and sleep disruption. Burnout can also lead to frequent headaches and impact your immune system, making you more likely to get sick.


If you think you’re suffering from burnout, it’s important to seek support both at work and from friends and family. Exercising, eating healthily, getting more sleep, and practicing relaxing activities like yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness can also lend you a helping hand. Evaluating your options is also important – try discussing the issue with your supervisor and setting new goals to work towards. It might even be time to look for a new, more enjoyable job.  

The ICD-11 was drafted last year and now, having been approved, will come into effect in January 2022. Other changes to the ICD include classifying compulsive sexual behavior as a mental disorder and recognizing video-gaming as an addiction akin to gambling and drug addictions. In addition, the WHO will no longer classify transgenderism as a mental disorder, instead listing it as a “condition related to sexual health”.


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