Autistic Burnout vs Depression

Autistic burnout is the intense physical, mental or emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by a loss of skills, that many autistic people experience. For many of us, burnout mainly results from being in an environment that doesn’t need our needs, such as a world that is designed for neurotypical people. The stresses of life outpace our coping tools.

Depression is a mood disorder that is often characterised by ongoing feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. It is natural to feel sad at times, in reaction to a loss or life’s challenges but depression is when this sadness starts to last weeks and affects how you feel, think and behave.

Burnout Signs

Loss of skills – cognition, executive function, memory, communication, coping strategies, masking

Increased sensitivity – to sensory stimulus, sensory overload, change & social stimulus

Increased ‘autistic’ behaviour – stimming, more frequent meltdowns/shutdowns

Chronic exhaustion

Can contribute to depression & anxiety

Depression Signs

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, hopelessness or guilt

Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies

Reduced appetite or increased cravings

Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much

Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

There is an overlap between the two, however the key difference is the mood issues associated with depression. Sadness, emptiness, anger, irritability, etc, are not typically aspects of burnout.

But, these feelings may present during a burnout as many autistic people experience depression and burnout simultaneously.

Treatment/ Recovery

Burnout

Reducing commitments or tasks – Eg. Time off work

Stimming & engaging with special interests

Time spent unmasking

Reduced self-expectations

Sensory/ social withdrawal

Depression

Talking to someone you trust or peer support

Spending time outside – try to be active & go for walks

Keeping a mood diary

Counselling or therapy

Prescribed Medication

Summarised, depression is a chemical imbalance and treatment is more about boosting self-esteem and human interaction. However burnout is essentially exhaustion and treatment is often centred around removing external pressures and giving yourself time to recover.

Sources

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/ clinical-depression/symptoms/

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/autistic-burnout-an-often-misunderstood-element-of-autism-080620197

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