The impact of the coronavirus crisis on freelancers’ mental health

  • Research

For freelancers and the self-employed, coronavirus has been not only a health crisis, but also an income crisis. We can now see that this and the other circumstances of the lockdown have drastically undermined freelancers’ mental health. A quarter of them say they now have “poor” or “very poor” mental health – more than a 300 per cent increase since before the pandemic.

Historically, many people have chosen self-employment as a means to fit their work around existing mental health issues and other disabilities. Before the pandemic, two-thirds (68%) said they had “good” or “excellent” mental health, however because of the coronavirus crisis, this fell by 43 per cent to just over a third (39%). This was most severe among women (a drop of 54%) and young freelancers aged 16-34 (a drop of 49%).

The rise in mental health problems seems to be driven by high job-related stress levels during the pandemic. 32 per cent of freelancers said they were highly stressed. In fact, when rating their level of job-related stress from one to ten, 10 per cent selected the highest possible rating.

 

This surge in stress is having a serious negative impact on freelancers. As a result of job-related stress almost half said they felt less productive (48%), depressed or anxious (48%) or lost sleep over worry (47%). 46 per cent of more stressed freelancers also said they had felt a reduction in their confidence or energy. Just over a fifth (22%) said they had even lost clients because of job-related stress.

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly undermined the mental health of many freelancers, but there were also pressures on their mental health before lockdown. The vast majority of freelancers (80%) said that moving into self-employment had a positive impact on their mental health. The top reasons for this, according to freelancers, were escaping office politics (70%), increased flexibility (70%), being their own boss (69%) and having more control over their work (67%).

Freelancers find there are many challenges that affect their mental health. Over half (53%) said trying to find work had a negative impact on their mental health. Half also said that irregularity of income was a challenge for their mental health. Other aspects of self-employment that freelancers felt had a negative impact on their mental health included the ‘blurring of boundaries being work and homelife’ (32%), ‘not having access to statutory employment benefits’ (29%) and ‘working long hours/tight deadlines’ (28%).

Whether challenges arose from coronavirus or the circumstances of self-employment, freelancers said they had a range of coping mechanisms to maintain their mental health. Two-thirds of freelancers (67%) said they made time to exercise to maintain their mental health, while half also said they make sure they get enough sleep and make time for hobbies and entertainment to support their mental health. 49 per cent also said they try to maintain a healthy diet to boost their mental health.

One thing few freelancers seem to be doing to maintain or improve their health is seeking advice. Just 17 per cent said they had accessed support for their mental health, including:  information and advice online (12%), counselling/therapy sessions (7%) or mental health helplines (1%) during the pandemic.

When asked what they would find useful to improve their mental health, the most popular answers were to do with interacting with others: ‘coaching and mentoring’ (23%), ‘connecting with others in similar situations’ (22%) and ‘co-working opportunities’ (22%).

Building on these answers, there are a range of recommendations for government and industry in this report.

Read the full report here

 

Meet the authors

Chloe Jepps

Head of Research

Inna Yordanova

Senior Researcher

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