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.
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
Can contribute to depression & anxiety
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.
Reducing commitments or tasks – Eg. Time off work
Stimming & engaging with special interests
Time spent unmasking
Sensory/ social withdrawal
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
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.