Separating Professional Burnout from Depression

Image credit:  Folkert Gorter

Image credit: Folkert Gorter


For #LISMentalHealth week, library science academic Maria Accardi relates a personal story that comes with a good reminder for anyone who has dealt with depression: no matter how many times you deal with it, you might not recognize it the next time it comes around.

Accardi has gone through recurrent episodes of major depression, which is the sort of thing that would make anyone feel like an expert. But in early 2014, she started suffering new symptoms that were impacting her work.

I had been promoted and awarded tenure the year before, and my book had come out the year before, and I was looking forward to a Fall 2014 semester sabbatical. The fact that I was suddenly completely unable to concentrate at work seemed like just another burnout symptom. I would go to my office, close the door, and literally stare off into space for hours. I would look at the clock and say, okay, it’s 11:30 am. I can space out for 20 minutes and then I really have to buckle down and get to work. And so I’d space out, and the next thing I knew, a whole hour would go by.

Despite the fact that Accardi was well-versed in handling depression, this episode was so different that she attributed it to professional burnout and spent months suffering before she began to consider seeking treatment. By the time she reached out for help, things had already reached a crisis point.

Fortunately she was able to summon up the strength to reach out for help, and found support in the people around her. It wasn’t easy, though, and she wraps up with some valuable advice.

Right now, right at this very minute as I write this, I confess to having niggling doubts about publishing this, about any professional ramifications it might have, but then, as I think about it, I get angry. If anyone thinks any less of me because I am speaking openly about my experience with depression then F*CK THEM.

F*CK STIGMA.

And also, while I’m issuing commands: please pay careful attention to your moods and emotional state if you are dealing with professional burnout. I really honestly think that I could have at least tried to arrest my terrible depression episode of 2014 if I hadn’t confused my symptoms with burnout. 

Burnout can be a big problem in any professional or creative field, but it is also generally manageable. If it’s not, that’s a sure sign that it could be masking something more serious.

If that’s something you’re experiencing, it’s a good time to consider seeking help.

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