Burnout and professional depression: related concepts?


Dr Hugh Firth, Department of Psychiatry, Prudhoe Hospital, Prudhoe, Northumberland NE42 5NT.


In 1978 Oswin documented a process of ‘professional depression’ affecting some nursing staffin long-stay hospitals. This study tested the hypothesis that ‘professional depression’ in long-stay nursing and ‘emotional exhaustion’ as a component of burnout describe a similar phenomenon. This hypothesis was supported. The results are consistent with Cherniss’ characterization of burnout, which appears to show considerable similarities to the concept of depression. In this study professional depression demonstrated a substantial correlation with depressed mood. Personality demonstrated significant relationships with burnout variables, extrapunitive hostility correlating with hardening toward others, intropunitiveness with avoidance as a coping response. These findings, although confined to hospital nurses, support the usefulness of approaches stressing the interaction between the work environment and the individual.