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Burnout is now a recognised condition – and that's more important than you think

Formal recognition of this insidious epidemic is a small victory, but a significant one for women

Katie Bishop
Wednesday 29 May 2019 14:55 BST
Burn out recognised as chronic condition by world health organisation

Exhaustion, disillusionment with your job, and reduced professional efficacy are feelings that will be familiar to many. These symptoms of burnout seem almost embedded in a culture obsessed with productivity and the so-called “hustle”.

One US survey reported that 67 per cent of employees report experiencing this type of work-related stress. It’s hardly surprising. In an age of insecure work and soaring living costs people are putting in extra hours outside of the normal 9 to 5, or perhaps even taking on a second job. It has become the new normal.

Burnout is an epidemic that until now has not been recognised as a diagnosable disorder, but this is all set to change. This week, the World Health Organisation announced that burnout will be classified as a chronic condition in the upcoming 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

Many will be delighted that their work-related health is being taken seriously, but there is one group in particular that will be breathing a sigh of relief. For women, issues with having enough authority in the workplace, difficulties of balancing work and personal life, and being given few opportunities for decision-making often lead to the emotional exhaustion and professional cynicism that characterise burnout.

In addition the crippling emotional labour taken on by women both in the workplace and at home is an added stressor that both exacerbates and aligns with their mental exhaustion.

This troubling set-up is painfully reflected in the numerous studies that have shown burnout is much more prevalent in women and the impacts extend far outside of the workplace. As well as stifling professional growth, burnout can cause anxiety, insomnia, and a multitude of physical ailments.

Formal recognition of burnout is a small victory but a significant one. When it comes to women’s health there is still a vast knowledge gap with worrying impacts. Most clinical research is performed largely on men and there are few efforts to figure out the differences between male and female subjects.

Women are often not trusted to report their symptoms, leading many predominantly female illnesses to take years on average to diagnose. And although the contraceptive pill remains one of the UK’s most widely taken drugs it still includes symptoms that range from cancer to life-threatening blood clots.

In a culture where women are increasingly overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated, recognising the associated health risks of burnout is imperative. For the women I hope to see flocking to their GPs in search of a solution for their frazzled mental state, the possibility of a diagnosis reflects recognition of our troubling position both in the workplace and the medical hierarchy.

The classification of burnout represents an important step for women’s health and mental health. It is not only about being taken seriously, but about being prioritised.

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