The proportion of freelancers reporting mental health problems has risen by over 200% during the pandemic, leaving one in five struggling with issues like anxiety and depression.
Research conducted by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has uncovered what it is calling the "hidden cost of the pandemic" as 52% of freelancers say their mental health has deteriorated during the past year.
IPSE's findings show that the proportion of freelance workers reporting poor mental health has gone up from 6% to 20% over the course of the pandemic - an increase of 200%. Of those who reported poor mental health, 71% said this manifested itself in anxiety or depression. More than two-thirds (69%) also said they had experienced an increase in negative thoughts. Another 77% said they had reduced energy levels, while 71% said they had difficulty sleeping.
Struggling freelancers also say their mental health has had a detrimental impact on their work:
- 61% said they had struggled to concentrate;
- 60% said they had experienced reduced productivity;
- 14% even reported having to delay or cancel projects.
A key factor seems to be finances. Three out of five freelancers (60%) said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their businesses. Company directors were more likely to report a deterioration in their mental health than sole traders - 62% compared to 54% respectively. This may reflect the lack of government support for limited company directors, who were excluded from the SEISS grant scheme.
Freelancers reported that their top five strategies for improving their mental health were exercising (65%), adopting a healthy diet (48%), trying to get enough sleep (46%), spending time on hobbies and entertainment (46%) and sharing their thoughts and feelings with others (27%).
IPSE has made four recommendations for government to tackle the mental health crisis among freelancers, including ensuring flexible and fair COVID support as the country emerges from lockdown, mental health support tailored to freelancers, promoting coworking spaces with business rates relief and encouraging clients to support freelancers' mental health.
Chloé Jepps, head of research at IPSE, said: "The hidden cost of the pandemic is the toll it has taken on people's mental health. And for freelancers, who took a disproportionate hit because of their exposed position in the economy, this toll has been particularly high.
"We all know the lockdowns and the sheer tragedy of the pandemic have been bad for mental health across the board, but a 200% increase in poor mental health is shocking evidence of just how exposed the self-employed community is. It is also telling and concerning that the sharpest hit to mental health is among limited company owners, who were largely excluded from support.
"As this research shows, poor mental health not only leads to a rise in conditions such as anxiety and depression; it also leads to problems with freelancers' work and livelihoods. This is something that both freelancers themselves and government need to address."
Written by Rachel Miller.