Link found between burnout and depression in young professionals, ECEC take note

by Freya Lucas

April 30, 2020

As education and care professionals around Australia grapple with an altered and ever changing policy landscape in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers in the US have drawn attention to their work, which explores the relationship between burnout and depressive symptoms in young medical professionals.

 

Although the research relates to a different sector, the findings may be of interest to those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, particularly given previous findings from Charles Sturt University that found that many young educators who enter the profession because they liked the idea of working with children soon leave again because their experience does not meet with their expectations.

 

As workforce challenges persist within the sector, a deeper examination and understanding of the complexities of the role, and the reasons that lead to professionals leaving the profession becomes increasingly important.

 

Recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the work of Dr Guille of the Medical University of South Carolina, and of Dr Rotenstein, an internal medicine resident at a number of hospitals, helps to correct “a long-held misconception about burnout and depression”.

 

“There is a long-standing thought that burnout is associated with workplace factors and that depressive symptoms are associated with workplace factors but also heavily influenced by personal factors,” Dr Rotenstein explained. 

“We found that the factors that drive burnout are much more closely related to the factors that drive depressive symptoms than previously realised.”  

Through the study, the researchers found what they termed “substantial overlap” between the factors that predict burnout and depressive symptoms. 

 

The study surveyed 1,552 medical interns entering residency programs at 68 different institutions about depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation, as well as about potential contributing factors. 

 

Depressive symptoms were measured by a standard nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire, while emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation were measured with a nine-item abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory. 

 

Workload and learning environment satisfaction were assessed with a standardised instrument. Personal factors assessed included age, gender, ethnicity, relationship status, sexual orientation, parenting status, specialty, self-reported history of depression, early life stress and neuroticism score. 

 

The study found significant overlap between factors that contribute to depressive symptoms and those that contribute to burnout, with about two-thirds of variance in both depressive symptoms and burnout attributable to personal factors, and one-third of the variance in these measures attributable to workplace factors.

 

Dr Guille said the takeaway message from the study is clear – “there is substantial overlap between both workplace and personal factors that contribute to an increase in both depressive symptoms and burnout”.

 

For further advice and support about managing burnout in an education and care context, please see here

 

Those who require urgent help and support with their wellbeing may find the resources listed here of use.

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