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Burnout has been officially recognised by the WHO – here’s how South Africans are struggling with it

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially recognised burnout as a medical diagnosis. The condition now appears in the organisation’s International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, in the section on problems related to employment or unemployment.

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” the WHO said.

It is characterised by three dimensions:

Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;

Reduced professional efficacy.

“Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life,” the WHO said.

South Africa

A recent study conducted by PPS shows that burnout is a major problem among the country’s top professionals.

The study was based on a survey of 5,837 professionals across every major job category – including law, medicine and engineering.

22% of all respondents felt that they were overworked – citing long hours and staff shortages.

The data also shows that South Africans often take their problems home with them, with 50% of doctors stating that they are depressed due to a combination of being overworked, working long hours, and burnout.

This has led to an increase in South Africans who turn to alcohol and narcotics substances to cope with their problems, says Malcolm Young, GM of the Choose Life Specialist Recovery Centre.

“The workplace demands are extensive, and the constant level of stress and anxiety is leading to burnout and breakdowns,” said Young.

“Issues such as unfair demands from senior-level management, restructuring and increased hours, unqualified individuals promoted to positions of seniority…all of these are having an impact on South African corporates.”

Young said they were seeing work-place pressure causing conditions such as depression, alcoholism, dependency on sleeping tablets and sedatives as well as gambling, internet and sex addictions.

“The problems experienced at work are compounded by larger socio-political factors that businesspeople are having to contend with,” he continued. “This includes labour disputes with unions, a struggling economy constantly threatening job security and an ever-changing job market.”

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