The World Health Organisation has for the first time recognised “burn-out” as a medical condition in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.

The decision, reached during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, could help settle decades of debate among experts over how to define burnout, and whether it should be considered a medical condition.

In the latest update of its catalogue of diseases and injuries around the world, WHO defines burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”


It said the syndrome was characterised by three symptoms:

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

3) reduced professional efficacy.

The classification further stated that the burn-out diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations.

The updated ICD list, dubbed ICD-11, was drafted last year following recommendations from health experts around the world. It will take effect in January 2022 and contains several other additions, including classification of “compulsive sexual behaviour” as a mental disorder.

It also recognises video gaming as an addiction for the first time, listing it alongside gambling and drugs like cocaine.

Watch The Current‘s video on how to tell if you workplace is toxic: