WHO included the burnout syndrome in its classification of diseases: understand what it is, the symptoms, treatments, and what to do if an employee is suffering from this syndrome

The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout syndrome in its International Classification of Diseases – 11th Revision (ICD-11). Although it hasn’t been classified as a disease, but “a syndrome conceived as a result from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” its characteristics were described in the document.

“It’s the first time burnout is included in the classification,” the WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told during the announcement. The UN had already affirmed in a previous resolution that diseases related to mental health, such as depression and anxiety, affect more than 300 million people worldwide, and tend to be the main reason of work leave by 2020.

The most recent classification was approved during the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly and will come into effect on January 01st, 2022.

What is burnout syndrome?

Burnout is an occupational phenomenon motivated by the conditions of work which may impede the worker to execute their labor.

The syndrome is characterized by three dimensions: a feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job (or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job), and reduced professional efficacy.

“Many factors may cause the symptoms, but work is the main reason, as people are exposed to a chronical difficulty in relationship with coworkers and bosses, for example. Yet, there’s the fear of being fired. The daily contact with people, usual in the areas of health and education, is something stressful. And people who are long years exposed to those conditions are more likely to develop the syndrome,” says the Psychiatry Outpatient Services Manager at Institute of Psychiatry – HCFMUSP Rodrigo Leite, in a publication of the university.

Homem com estafa de trabalho. Crédito: PxHere

Symptoms and diagnosis

The Ministry of Health lists the following symptoms as possible signs of burnout syndrome:

  • Chronic exhaustion, both physical and mental;
  • Frequent headaches;
  • Changes in appetite;
  • Insomnia;
  • Difficulty to concentrate;
  • Feelings of failure and insecurity;
  • Constant negativity;
  • Feeling of defeat and hopelessness;
  • Feeling of lack of competence;
  • Rapid mood swing;
  • Isolation;
  • Fatigue;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Muscle pain;
  • Gastrointestinal problems;
  • Change in heart rate.

Those symptoms can also reveal a depression or stress framework – or even show the relation between those mental health problems. In an interview with Brazilian site G1, Psychologist and Manager of the Brazilian International Stress Management Association, Ana Maria Rossi, affirmed that recent research conducted by the organization (not published yet) identified that 72% of Brazilians suffer from mild, moderate or high symptoms of burnout. Among those people, one third currently suffers from the syndrome.

Only a specialized professional can diagnose burnout syndrome. The Ministry of Health says that friends and family normally notice the symptoms, although psychiatrists and psychologists are the indicated health professionals to identify the problem and provide guidance regarding the appropriate form of treatment, according to each situation.

The Brazilian Unified Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde) and the Network for Psychosocial Care (Rede de Atenção Psicossocial – RAPS) are prepared to offer the entire treatment for free, from diagnosis to drug treatment. The Psychosocial Care Centers – one of the services offered by RAPS – are the most indicated institutions for the care of mental diseases.

The legal landmark of the Labor Justice

Leonardo Osório Mendonça, prosecutor and National Coordinator of the National Coordination of Protection of the Work Environment, explains that burnout syndrome has been listed as a health problem in Brazil for years. However, the country has a low number of notifications of mental diseases.

“With the publication of the WHO report, we hope to identify more people suffering from the disease,” said the Prosecutor. “Many times, we must file a lawsuit against the companies which don’t accept mental disease as a reason to leave. The referral for work-related illness is still very rare.”

The recommendations for those suffering from symptoms of burnout are:

  • Seek immediate medical care, with a doctor you trust, to obtain a reliable diagnosis of your problem: if you really have a syndrome, and if it is related to your work;
  • If the doctor diagnoses it as an occupational disease, communicate it to the company;
  • Ask the employer to communicate the Social Security System in order to start the sick leave procedures;
  • If the company refuses to do so, the alternatives are: to ask the trade union or the doctor to send the communication or to seek the Secretary of Labor or the Public Prosecutor’s Office and make a complaint.

The sick leave guarantees the sick payment and two other benefits: job stability for one year after the end of the benefit, and full payment of the severance indemnity fund by the company. In addition, applying for sick leave collaborates with the supervision of the Ministry of Labor, as it is a means of calling their attention to the conditions of work, and having then implement regulations to reduce the risks.

Homem com estafa de trabalho. Crédito: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

How can we avoid and treat burnout syndrome?

The treatment of the burnout syndrome is generally done through psychotherapy, but it can also include some medications (antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety drugs). According to the Ministry of Health, the treatment usually begins to have effects within one to three months, but it can take longer in some cases.

Besides medical treatment, changes in habits and lifestyle must be done: practice some physical activity regularly and have leisure time with people close to you.

“Studies indicate medication and psychotherapy for the treatment, and some of them even show the importance of physical activity. I believe that the burnout treatment is, in fact, a way of changing habits to become healthier in general, with attitudes like doing physical activities and quitting smoking and drinking,” says Rodrigo Leite. “The goal is the complete recovery of the individual, a multi-factorial treatment.”

The Ministry of Health also advises:

  • Talking to someone you trust about what you are feeling;
  • Practicing physical exercises regularly (gym, walking, jogging, cycling, paddle boarding, swimming, etc.);
  • Avoiding consumption of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, or other drugs;
  • Avoiding taking medicines without a doctor’s prescription.

Content published in June 19, 2019

What Braskem is doing about it?

Braskem is engaged with the human and environmental values that are part of the 2030 Agenda and defined measures for cooperating with the accomplishment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The direction and referral of the plan and actions of the company were presented in its Global Policy for Sustainable Development. The main contributions of Braskem for the development of the SDG can also be found in its Annual Report.

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