Like Lorna, physicians and health workers suffer from a critically high degree of burnout and stress. The rate of burnout among health workers continues to rise along with their rates of depression. In addition, the suicide rate among physicians and nurses is twice that of the general population.

Burnout vs. Depression Venn Diagram

This Venn Diagram displays the intersection between the issues of burnout, depression and other mental health issues and provides a clear roadmap to improve them. According to Dr. Christine Sinsky at the American Medical Association, burnout is an occupational syndrome related to the external environment in which people work whereas depression is a medical illness that has many contributors, including biology, one’s social structure and the environment in which we live and work. The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.

These are different conditions, and we need to understand the drivers of each condition and ways we can improve them.

Since burnout is an occupational disorder, we need to do two things to address it: first, we need to provide individual support to clinicians going beyond traditional employee assistance programs to provide confidential peer support and counseling. Individual support alone, however, does not address the causes of burnout. To address the causes of burnout we must look at the underlying processes and systems within our healthcare operations. The response to the increase in burnout by many organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic was to provide much needed individual support. We must now turn our attention to addressing the underlying causes.

Depression and other mental health conditions require professional treatment. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. According to the American Hospital Association, there are three key drivers of suicide among health workers, the first being the stigma associated with behavioral health disorders and the resulting fear of losing their medical license.

In order to avoid professional repercussions, overly stressed and burnt-out physicians and providers often feel trapped taking care of patients with little to no relief. It is not surprising that the quality of patient care suffers in parallel. Without immediate action, the added stress from the pandemic crisis will put more pressure on our caregivers, resulting in more loss of life and a further decline in patient care.