Examining burnout, depression, and self-compassion in veterans affairs mental health staff

David M. Atkinson, John L. Rodman, Paul D. Thuras, Paulo R Shiroma, Kelvin O. Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Objectives: Burnout, a state of emotional exhaustion associated with negative personal and occupational outcomes, is prevalent among healthcare providers. A better understanding of the psychological factors that may be associated with resilience to burnout is essential to develop effective interventions. Self-compassion, which includes kindness toward oneself, recognition of suffering as part of shared human experience, mindfulness, and nonjudgment toward inadequacies and failures, may be one such factor. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between burnout, depression, and self-compassion in Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health staff. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting: VA medical center and affiliated community-based clinics. Participants: VA mental health staff. Outcome measures: The 19-item Copenhagen Burnout Inventory, the 26-item Self-Compassion Scale, and the Patient Health Questionnaire 2-item depression screen. Demographic information included age, sex, years worked in current position, and number of staff supervised. Results: One hundred and twenty-eight of a potential 379 individuals (33.8%) responded. Clerical support, nursing, social work, psychology, and psychiatry were the major professions represented. Self-compassion was inversely correlated with burnout (r = -0.41, p < 0.001), and inversely correlated with depression (rpb = -0.39, p < 0.001). The inverse relationship between self-compassion and burnout remained significant even after accounting for depressive symptoms and demographic variables in a multiple linear regression model. Of all the variables examined, self-compassion was the strongest predictor of burnout. Conclusions: The results of this study support the hypothesis that self-compassion may be associated with resilience to burnout. Alternatively, decreased self-compassion may be a downstream effect of increased burnout. Prospective, longitudinal studies are needed to determine the directional relationship between these factors, and whether interventions that cultivate self-compassion may decrease burnout and/or protect against its negative personal and professional outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-557
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2017, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2017.


  • burnout
  • healthcare
  • resilience
  • self-compassion
  • stress


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