Burnout: a worldwide pandemic

The term ‘burnout’ is commonly known worldwide.

Burnout is a universal phenomenon experienced by professionals, students and ultimately, human beings experiencing the ups and downs of everyday life. As the pressures of the workplace heighten, simultaneously with personal difficulties, the likelihood of burnout begins to increase.

Recognising the signs of burnout is often the first way to overcome the condition. Like all mental health difficulties, burnout is individualised to all human beings – although research has identified general and common symptoms.

Burnout can look like sleepless nights despite intense exhaustion, leading to a lack of energy and fatigue. Burnout is often expressed through irritability and outbursts of anger. Individuals may also begin to experience concentration difficulties, influencing performance and motivation at work, often leading to presenteeism (a deterioration in performance while still at work) and subsequently absenteeism.

The relationship between burnout and depression has been closely examined in research – the general consensus has shown that burnout should not be viewed in a ‘black and white’ manner. Burnout appears to be closely related to a depressed mood which can sometimes lead to suicidal ideation – with this in mind, the impact of burnout should not be underestimated.

However, burnout may also be present in someone who appears to be the happiest person in the office - yet another reason to show sincere compassion, warmth and kindness towards others.

Burnout is commonly experienced by professionals working in mental health services – this is somewhat ironic, as they may be simultaneously treating others' burnout symptoms. These symptoms they know only too well, as what is sometimes called compassion fatigue.

Focusing specifically on the role of a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, rates of burnout are increasingly high. Why? With waiting lists rocketing and caseloads overflowing, practitioners are often overworked and as a result, their wellbeing takes an immense hit.

It appears we may need more research regarding how to prevent burn out, rather than how to treat it. We tend to recognise that we are struggling and reach out for help when we are at breaking point. Hence the need to bring awareness to the above symptoms and signs of burnout.

 Thankfully, there are ways to treat burnout and overcome the symptoms:

  • Attend your own therapy in order to have a safe space to speak to a professional. This is your chance to release your thoughts, allow your shoulders to relax and cry if needed.
  • Confide in your boss/supervisor/senior that you are currently struggling.
  • You may be entitled to take some time off – use this time to rest physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Strip back to those basic needs and ask yourself; am I eating OK? How can I get a better night’s sleep? Am I getting enough sunlight? Am I experiencing human connection?
  • Find out practical coping strategies that work for you and continue implementing them daily – this may look like journalling, mindfulness or choosing a hobby completely unrelated to work.
  • If you continue to work during this period, remind yourself that ‘good enough’ is good enough and ‘perfection’ is a fictional goal.
  • Do not feel guilty for prioritising your mental health. It is the most important thing of all.
  • Be kind with the words you tell yourself. Difficult? Of course. Life-changing? Absolutely.

To sum up, burnout is becoming a universal condition. The treatment of burnout can be effective in order to ‘recharge’. However, if we are aware of the early signs and symptoms of burnout, perhaps it may be possible to overcome the condition before symptoms escalate.

Mental health practitioners are aware of the tools needed to treat burnout, yet the condition is widespread amongst the profession. Therefore, mental health practitioners must be prompted to give the same level of care and compassion to themselves as they do to their clients. As the cabin crew instruction goes, it is essential to put your oxygen mask on first, or you will not be in a position to help others. Compassion inwards as well as outwards. Fill up your cup and then pour.

Cara McErlain
Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner