Burnout classified as medical condition: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has for the first time recognised “burn-out” in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The decision was taken during the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.

Key Highlights


  • In latest update of WHO’s catalogue of diseases and injuries gloablly, WHO defined Burn-out as- syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
  • As per the classification, Burn-out refers predominantly to phenomena in occupational context and should not be applied to describe an individual’s experience in other areas of life.

Three Dimensions: The syndrome is characterised by three dimensions –

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of cynicism or negativism related to one’s job.
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

Significance: Classifying “burn-out” in ICD could help put to rest years of debate among experts about how to define burnout, and whether it should be considered a medical condition or not.

About International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

  • It is the global health information standard for mortality and morbidity statistics. It was created in 1948 and WHO was entrusted with it. ICD is revised periodically and this year is currently its 10th revision.
  • It is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.
  • The updated ICD list, dubbed as ICD-11, was drafted in 2018 following recommendations from health experts from all around the world. It was approved on 25 May 2019 and will take effect in January 2022.

About The ICD-11

  • For the first time burnout has been included in WHO’s ICD classification.
  • The list also contains several other additions which includes classification of ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’ in category of mental disorder however it stops short of combining the condition together with addictive behaviours.
  • For the first time it recognises Video Gaming as an addiction and listed it alongside gambling and drugs like cocaine.
  • It also removes transgenderism from its list of mental disorders although listed it instead under chapter on “conditions related to sexual health”.