Can working for and by yourself make you so lonely that you get depressed? Yes, say a resounding number of freelancers.
A UK survey found that 56% of freelance workers feel depressed due to work. Fewer than 30% of workers in traditional roles feel the same way. Two-thirds of those who work alone feel very lonely in their lives.
Nearly 40% of workers today are independent contractors. They report higher levels of stress and are less able to put work away during time off than office-based workers. And many of them work alone.
The gig economy has given birth to a class of workers who, while able to choose their work and set their own hours and workplaces, feel disconnected from the companies they work for and the people they work with. If they work with anyone at all.
As temporary employees they rarely have access to common corporate benefits such as employee assistance plans, which can lend help with mental health difficulties. And in the US, many freelancers have no health insurance. This makes seeking medical care for depression difficult and costly.
As a writer, I spend hours locked away in my room, interacting only with a notebook, a laptop and my own thoughts. Sometimes I miss people.
I have to make an effort to get out and have some human contact. I have coffee or lunch with friends a couple of times a week and do things like shop in stores instead of on-line, just to be around people.
Stress management is crucial, so I meditate every day. Working at co-working spaces can bring people together, but co-working space can be expensive. In my case, to write well I must be alone.
So while I treasure the opportunity to be creative and set my own schedule, I sometimes really miss the camaraderie of working with a team.
You have to wonder what this move toward freelancing says about commitment in our culture. Companies are less committed to their employees, if they fully take on employees at all, and workers are less connected to their employers and coworkers than used to be the case.
When people feel disconnected from the people or firms they work for, loneliness results. And all too often loneliness breeds depression.
We’re social beings, and meaningful work is an important part of our social fabric. Work is also an important part of one’s identity. It’s difficult to identify with being alone all the time.
Key to managing depression are relationships with other people. Many of these relationships come through our work. For freelancers who work alone, these relationships are harder to forge and maintain.
So if you do work freelance, make the effort, through clubs, sports, professional groups or hobbies, to spend some time with others you have something in common with and like to be around.