Everyone’s Talking about Mental Health. So Why is There Still a Stigma around Burnout?

The truth about why it exists — and what we can do to overcome burnout stigma.

Sally Clarke
3 min readJun 21, 2021


Unsplash, Kelly Sikkema

Ryan Reynolds acknowledging his anxiety issues. Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon due to ongoing bouts of depression. Meghan Markle opening up about her suicidal thoughts.

Right now, mental health issues are at the forefront of popular culture.

This is great: shedding light on these topics forms an important step towards destigmatizing mental health issues such as burnout.

But much more needs to change, to end burnout stigma.

How stigma works.

A stigma is a barrier rooted in prejudice, avoidance, rejection, and discrimination due to a lack of understanding.

In burnout, stigma usually plays out in two forms.

One is perceived stigma: what we think others will think about our burnout. Namely, that they will consider us inferior, fallible, and weak.

When we internalize these beliefs, it becomes self stigma. The thoughts shift from “they will think I’m bad if I burn out” to “I am bad if I burn out.”

Almost everyone I have spoken to about their burnout grappled with some form of stigma. Colleagues, family, society at large, ourselves: whatever the source, we all received the message (explicit or implicit) that burnout was tantamount to a massive personal failing.

As Kieran Tie put it: “Most of all, I felt weak. And I felt ashamed of feeling weak. I felt like I should be able to power through and work things out on my own. And when I couldn’t, I felt even worse.”

Stigma is not imagined. It is real.

When we think that others will judge us if we are in burnout, we are not making this shit up. Studies show that people and society at large view burnt out individuals as less competent than those who are not burnt out.

It’s not because people are inherently bad, or cannot rationally see that the causes of burnout are systemic and not individual.



Sally Clarke

Co Director of Human Leaders. Wellbeing & burnout author, expert, coach, writer & speaker. Global adventurer. she/her www.salcla.com