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One in four freelancers facing mental health issues

by Martin Fullard

The number of self-employed people saying they have ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health has increased from 6% to 26% since the beginning of the pandemic (a 300% rise), according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE). 

The number saying they had ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ mental health has also dropped significantly since the beginning of the pandemic – from two-thirds (68%) 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%).

A third of freelancers (32%) now say they are highly stressed, with serious negative consequences. Half (48%) said they felt depressed or anxious because of stress – and the same proportion said they felt they were also less productive. 47 per cent of stressed freelancers said they were losing sleep because of worry and 46 per cent said they felt a reduction in their confidence and energy. Just over a fifth (22%) said they had even lost clients because of job-related stress. 

To counter this, two-thirds of freelancers (67%) said they made time to exercise, while half also said they make sure they get enough sleep and make time for hobbies and entertainment to support their mental health. Forty-none percent 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% 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.

Recommendations included making Covid-19 self-employed support flexible and fair as we emerge from lockdown, provide and promote mental health support tailored to freelancers, and make sure freelancers can take part in the training and skills revolution

Co-working spaces should be promoted and extend business rate relief from small businesses to workhubs. Encouraging clients to consider their freelancers’ mental health and adhere to best practice guidelines should also be considered.

Chloé Jepps, head of research at IPSE, said: “Lockdown and the pandemic have clearly shaken the mental health of the freelancing sector. Before the pandemic, many people went freelance for the freedom and flexibility. 

“Now, however, with financial worries mounting and not enough support from government, one in four freelancers are struggling with their mental health. This is a simmering crisis for freelancers across the UK – and one that government and industry have to confront.  

“One of the most practical things government can do is help stave off the financial worries of freelancers and the self-employed, since this sector has been hit harder than most by lockdown and the pandemic. The government should make sure there is no cliff-edge to its support schemes and that any further support is open to all the self-employed, not just a proportion. 

“We also believe it is vital government and industry begin promoting mental health advice and guidance that is tailored to freelancers. This essential and large part of the workforce has not had the mental health support it needs and in the current financial turmoil, that need is more urgent than ever.”

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