PTSD and burn-out


According to the Dutch Agency for Statistics, 10% of the Dutch labour force suffer from burn-out related complaints. Burn-out is a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and a lower self-esteem / lower perception of own competences. This situation of being overstrained is a result of prolonged emotional overload and stress. Risk factors are: high work pressure, bad working atmosphere, limited influence and low rewards. Burn-out is most common between the ages of 35-55, although the millennials (18-34) also are a high risk group, acoording to recent research (1). The higer the education level of employees, the higher the chances of suffering from burn-out complaints. Health care and Education are higher risk industries.

The sick leave figure in the Netherlands has been stable for years – since 2006 this is between 3.8% and 4.2%. The industry with the lowest figure is the catering industry (2.2% in 2016). Public administration and health care have the higherst figure – 5.3% and 5.1% respectively. The lower figure in the catering industry mainly is a result of the composition of the labour force – mainly young people – who are generally speaking less often ill. Furthermore – according to the Dutch Agency for Statistics the employees in the catering industry have more freedom than in other industries to decide whether and when they take leave plus their employment arrangement is generally a flexible contract. The last two factors contribute to a lower absenteeism. (2)

According to company doctors, 70-90% of all sick leave are non-medical. They state that half of all absenteeism can be reduced if organisations create a culture in which employees can talk about their questions and issues. (3)

The percentage of the labour force suffering from burn-out related complaints (10%) sounds like a lot. But what if there is a margin in the measurements and in the figures? The examples above point in that direction. Just like the PTSD figures (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in the US. According to Seligman (4) there is – amongst other things – also a degree of a self fulfilling prophecy. As soon as US soldiers who are familiar with the phenomenon of PTSD notice that they are sad as a result of a traumatic experience, they immediately link this to PTSD. At the same time, feelings of sadness are a natural reaction to a traumatic event and are not necessarily an indication of PTSD. Furthermore, there are also financial consequences: as long as a US soldier suffers from PTSD related complaints, they are entitled to receiving a disability payment per month for the rest of his or her life. Such a payment is not being granted in many other armies in the world. Seligman has compared PTSD figures between the British and the US army: 20% of US soldiers that have been on a mission to Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD related complaints, while for the Britisch soldiers, this figure is 4%. So there appears to be a margin in the figures, depending on the measurement, the perception and the financial consequences. What if a similar thing is applicatble to the burn-out figures in the Netherlands?

We can learn a lot from people who have returned successfully after a burn-out. These people show resilience and research has shown that resilience is important for dealing with stress and for happiness at work. And the good news is: resilience can be developed and trained.

(1) Jan Derksen, professor clinical psychology and psychotherapy, Radboud University and Brussels University in Metro – 1 juli 2017
(2) CBS:
(3) Volkskrant 13-3-2016:
(4) Seligman, Martin, 2011, Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How To Achieve Them, Nicholas Brealey Publishing