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WHO recognizes burnout as a disease

May 27, 2019

Health experts from around the world have recommended that burnout be classified as a medical condition. For decades, experts had debated over how to define burnout, and whether it should be considered a disease.

Man with his head on photocopier
Image: Techniker Krankenkasse

The World Health Organization (WHO) for the first time put burnout on its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) list, which is used globally as a benchmark for health diagnosis.

The international body reached the decision to categorize burnout as a medical condition during its recently concluded World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Following recommendations from health experts around the world, the updated ICD list was drafted in 2018 and was approved on Saturday.

Read more: Stressed out in the workplace

Workplace stress

The WHO has now classified burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

Stress management at work


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The global health organization said the burnout syndrome is characterized by three dimensions: "1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy."

Read more: Many Americans find workplace 'hostile and taxing'

"Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life," according to the classification.


The updated ICD list, which takes effect in January 2022, also classifies "compulsive sexual behavior" as a mental disorder, although it stops short of putting it together with addictive behaviors. It does, however, for the first time recognize video gaming as an addiction, alongside gambling and drug addiction.

The list removes transgenderism from its list of mental disorders, listing it instead under the chapter on "conditions related to sexual health."

Read more: Study finds many pilots have depression but don't talk about it 

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