This is the third part of my five-part series about stress management. The first two parts can be found here:

I recommend reading the blog posts in chronological order.

Burn-out and Depression

In part 2 we spent some time examining the Early stress symptoms that you should be aware of. In this part 3, we are going to briefly talk about burn-out and depression - the next levels in the Vicious Cycle of Stress.

A Word of Warning

Let’s hope that you have taken care of your physical and mental health, kept your stress level under control and you have enough revitalizing things in your life so that you have never entered the lower levels of the Vicious Cycle of Stress. The reason is that if you have entered the levels below the Early symptoms - i.e. the burn-out and depression levels - your situation is considerably worse for you yourself to handle the situation. So, try to stay on the Normal area of life, and if you ever enter the Early Symptoms level, do everything you can to go back to the Normal area of life before the Vicious Cycle of Stress is pulling you down to the next level. We are going to discuss the tools to prevent you from going down in the following parts of this series. But let’s now briefly introduce to you the horrors of the Burn-out and Depression levels so that you realize that you really don’t want to go there.


There are different opinions about whether burn-out and depression are actually the same things. I have used the words separately mostly for illustrative purposes for the graph in part 1. Most psychologists see the terms (almost) synonymously. I guess it is just more socially acceptable to say that “I spent a few months on sick-leave because of burn-out” than to use the more clinical term “depression”. “Burn-out” is usually referred to as a “depression” that was triggered mostly by stress at work. On the fundamental level, it’s not important what triggered the problem - depression itself for the individual in a clinical sense is pretty same whether it was caused by stress at work or stress from other reasons (health issues, relationship problems, etc.). Let’s use the concepts in this post synonymously referring to a serious psychological disorder or even collapse in which the individual cannot function properly for his or her everyday challenges.

Material to Read

The internet is full of material regarding burn-out and depression - a major health issue nowadays. So, it’s pointless to make a full description of depression in this post. I’ll recommend the reader to read the following web sites and listen to the following podcasts for further information. In this post, I’m just summarizing the most important aspects of burn-out and depression.

  • Prof. Mark Williams on depression. Professor Mark Williams has been active for decades on the research of depression and especially how to prevent depression from occurring again (a major problem). I strongly recommend to listen to his and Dr. Danny Penman’s podcasts regarding the subject:
    • What is depression:
    • How is depression treated:
  • Mental Health Foundation, UK, on depression:
  • World Health Organization (WHO) on depression:
    • WHO has published a hilarious animation which wonderfully describes the nature of depression:

Statistics of Depression

Some statistics about depression to illustrate how enormous problem depression is worldwide:

  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. (
  • An estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 7.1% of all U.S. adults. (
  • In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. (
  • In Finland, 20 percent of people suffer from depression at some point in their lives. (

So, in many developed countries depression is the leading or one of the leading causes for individuals to retire from workforce due disability. Depression causes enormous suffering and is also one of the reasons for high suicide numbers in many developed countries. One big problem with depression also is that it recurs very easily - if you have experienced major depression it tends to come back later in stressful life events. Depression is really something that we as a society should prevent happening in the first place. An individual person should also learn various tools to prevent depression, more about that in later posts.

Depression in 15 Seconds

Everyone feels sad at times. But depression is different from just feeling sad. A person suffering from depression will experience strong emotions of anxiety, negativity and hopelessness. Normal sadness goes away in time but depression tends to last for a longer period of time.

Good News

Burn-out / depression is a very serious physiological and psychological condition you should avoid at all costs. There are good news, though:

  • You can stay on the Area of normal life and avoid burn-out and depression altogether. If you keep your stress under control and have some luck in life or have a resilient psyche you may not get depressed at all. Be happy since you may not understand how lucky you are.
  • You can jump from the Early stress symptoms area back to the Area of normal life. The early symptoms are your body’s and mind’s way to tell you that you have to do something to the stress. Now it’s time to act before anything worse happens. In later parts of this series we are going to talk about the tools everyone can use to handle stress in life.
  • It’s possible to recover from burn-out and depression. Usually it’s a lot easier to prevent problems than to cure them and depression is no exception. So, in the first place you should do everything you can not to get depressed. But if you already got it, the good news is that there are tools (pharmaceutical, therapy and self-help) to shorten the time one spends in the depressed condition. You can read more about them in the web sites above; in this Stress management series I’m mostly going to focus on various tools to handle stress for preventing you to get depression in the first place. If you even doubt that you might have depression, I strongly recommend you to consult a general practitioner.

The Next Parts of the Stress Management Series

After this third part of the Stress management series we have given you an introduction to the Vicious Cycle of Stress, and explained the Early symptoms of stress and the Area-You-Don’t-Want-to-Enter, i.e. Burn-out and Depression. In the following parts, I intend to talk about tools everyone can use to handle stress in everyday life. Some of the tools are really just common sense like separating work-life and civil life, taking care of one’s physical health, spending time with family and friends, talking about your problems with your friends and so on. Some of the tools are not that intuitive, like understanding how the mind works and using this understanding to interpret one’s life in a more positive way, learning some relaxation methods to calm the mind and so on. So, see you in the next part!

The writer has double majors: Master of Arts (Psychology) and Master of Science (Software Engineering). The writer has spent his career in the field of software industry but still reads various psychology related articles with great interest.

Kari Marttila