How to look after your mental health as a contractor
Two years on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re only just starting to really process the impact it has had on our mental health. When we spent 2020 and early 2021 going in and out of lockdown, we simply had to get on with it, there was very little time to process the trauma and the impact it was having. However, as time has passed, we’ve been able to see a more accurate picture of how the nation’s mental health has been affected – in particular the mental health of contractors.
The state of the nation
IPSE have compiled general and self-employed mental health statistics from a variety of charities and organisations to highlight the state on mental health in the UK. For instance, according to Mind, one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, while one in six will report a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety every week. The Mental Health Foundation highlight that 7.8% of the British population (that’s just shy of half a million people) meet the diagnosis criteria for mixed anxiety and depression. And did you know that people working in the creative sector are three times more likely to experience mental health problems, with anxiety and depression being the main offenders?
These stats shift slightly when we look at the UK self-employed market. For instance, 80% of freelancers felt that moving to self-employment had a somewhat positive impact on their mental health. However, the self-employed are certainly not immune to mental health issues. 3.6% of male freelancers reported mental health problems, and this shot up to 6.7% for women. There are lots of factors that have a negative impact, with finding work and irregularity of income being cited 53% and 50% of the time, and the blurring of work and home life boundaries being cited 32% of the time. One in 10 freelancers take no time off as well, which can only exacerbate the situation.
As you can imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse, as IPSE’s research shows. One in five self-employed professionals worried they would have to close their business, and 32% reported higher levels of stress. 29%, meanwhile, reported lower job satisfaction and the number of self-employed reporting their mental health as good or excellent plummeted from 68% to 39%. Compounding this further, the number reporting poor or very poor mental health shot up from 6% to 26%.
You are not alone
These statistics are far from pleasing. However, if any comfort can be taken from them, it’s that contractors struggling with mental health issues are not alone in feeling this way. Being self-employed can be a lonely endeavour, now more than ever, with increased working from home and less contact time with clients but, as a community, contractors and freelancers are experiencing this together and, if you are struggling, it’s not just you. You’re not broken; you can find help.
Talk to someone
It might sound cliché, but talking to someone is the first step in getting help. This could be anyone: a friend, a family member, a fellow contractor – whoever you think is best placed to truly listen and offer support. You’ll be surprised by how many others have similar experiences and will be able to offer empathy and good advice.
It can also be useful to speak to your GP. Your GP will be able to signpost services such as counselling and support groups, as well as talk you through options such as medication. Bear in mind that NHS counselling services are overwhelmed at the moment and will have long waiting lists. If you can afford it, it could be worth looking into private or subsidised services.
Take a break
A shorter term solution is to recognise when you are feeling overwhelmed and give yourself the opportunity to take a break. So, when you can feel that the stress or anxiety are beginning to peak, switch off your laptop and get away from work. Remember, one of the beautiful things about being self-employed is that you are in charge of your own time. So, if you decide that you have absolutely had enough today and you want to take some time off, that’s up to you and no one else. Take this time to do whatever you find useful to unwind. This might be:
- Going for a walk
- Doing some exercise
- Taking a nap
- Reading a book
- Any other activity you find helps you to relieve stress
Try as well to take a longer period off. This might be a week or two to go on holiday, have a staycation, or just enjoy some time doing whatever you want. Be sure to book in that time with yourself and stick to it.
If you need to speak to someone, you can call Samaritans for free at any time on 116 123. Samaritans are there, whatever you’re going through, and offer a safe space to talk and be listened to.
If you believe you are at risk of suicide or self-harm, you should attend your nearest A&E or call 999.