Working Alone: The Heightened Need for Depression Treatment Amongst Freelancers

depression treatment
The social isolation many freelancers experience may heighten the need for depression treatment. | Image Source: Pexels user Karolina Grabowska

For many, freelancing sounds like a dream: make your own hours, pick the projects you want to work on, set your own rates, and have the flexibility to balance life and work in a way that makes sense for you. Rolling out of bed and firing up the laptop to settle in for a day of work in your pajamas can sound highly seductive, especially when compared to long commutes, noisy offices, and strict corporate schedules. While for some that is indeed how it pans out, others quickly realize that freelancing comes with its own set of challenges that can interfere with work satisfaction—your time is dictated by the needs of your clients, the ability to work whenever you want may translate to working all the time, your income may be volatile and unpredictable, and the future of both your professional life and economic standing may look uncertain as you jump from contract to contract. But one of the last recognized and most damaging effects of freelancing is often isolation, which can cause or augment some freelancers’ slide into depression, and delay depression treatment.

The Disruption of Social Connection

Sarah Horowitz founded the Freelancers Union in 2003 with the goal of expanding healthcare access for freelancers. During her time working with the independently employed, she has come to identify depression as a major work hazard amongst freelancers. “You work with coal miners and you learn everything there is about black lung. You work with freelancers and you learn about depression,” she recently told The Village Voice. [1. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/a-decade-on-freelancers-union-founder-sara-horowitz-takes-her-fight-mainstream-6437449/] And there is good reason for this. As innately social creatures, humans depend on social experiences and connections to maintain psychological stability. In modern society, the workplace is typically one of the primary sites of social activity, providing a space for regular interaction and contact with others. Even the most seemingly insignificant workplace encounters can serve to feed our need for inclusion, community, and connection, and act as a buffer for developing depression.

However, many freelancers work in relative isolation, often having minimal or no in-person contact with others. Even telephone contact is often limited, leaving work mediated solely through a keyboard and glowing screen. As Vivian Giang writes:

When the house is quiet and everyone is gone for the day, it’s just you and the humming of your laptop—day in, day out. You may go through an entire day without speaking, and often go for several days without having any face-to-face interactions with anyone.[2. http://www.fastcompany.com/3051268/hit-the-ground-running/why-isolation-is-a-more-serious-freelance-than-you-think]

This disconnection from ordinary social experiences can contribute to feelings of loneliness and leave important psychological needs unmet, resulting in or contributing to depression. A growing body of research indicates that social isolation and feelings of loneliness are closely related to the development of depression even when socioeconomic factors, marital status, and perceived stress are accounted for.[3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16594799/] Professor Ian Hickie at the University of Sydney has identified social isolation as “perhaps the most important factor contributing to male suicide attempts.”[4. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/25/loneliness-a-key-risk-factor-for-suicide-among-australian-men-study] But recognizing the emergence of depression may be particularly tricky for freelancers, as many of the ordinary checks and balances of mental health are no longer present. Are you working in bed all day because you can’t muster up the energy to leave or because it’s a cozy place to work? Have you not washed your hair for four days because your behavior is being shaped by depressive illness or because one of the perks of freelancing is not having to care about looking professional? Are you socially withdrawn or just working hard within an inherently asocial environment? Often, the nature of freelancing itself can serve to hide the need for depression treatment.

Balancing Freelancing and Mental Health

It is vital for freelancers to ensure that your work is not leaving you with unmet emotional needs. Even those who thrive professionally through independent work can take active steps to guard against the psychological damage of social isolation:

Work in a Social Environment

Working from a coffee shop or a shared workspace can allow you to experience direct and ambient social contact throughout your workday, giving you opportunities for much-needed social participation. Often, working within these spaces also opens up the door to developing mutually supportive relationships with other freelancers that can serve to buoy you emotionally and professionally. If your work itself presents opportunities for in-person activities, take them. Suggest a lunch meeting rather than a Skype call, invite your client to view your work in your studio rather than electronically, discuss your contract face-to-face rather than through email.

Build Your Social Network

Forming connections with others who share your work situation and understand both the challenges and joys of freelancing and be deeply rewarding. By joining professional networking groups or organizing social get-togethers with other freelancers, you can build a support network of like-minded peers with whom you can share your thoughts, frustrations, and triumphs, fortifying your sense of connection, helping you solve problems, and decreasing loneliness.

Nurture Yourself and Your Existing Relationships

When you can technically work anywhere, anytime, you may feel that you have to work everywhere, all the time. Learning how to separate work from the rest of your life may be difficult, but it’s also necessary to ensure that your professional life doesn’t compromise your health and your social relationships. Make time to care for yourself physically through a proper diet, exercise, and a regular sleep pattern. Create a schedule that includes time with friends, family, and your partner. Turn off your phone, close the computer, and just be with the ones you love.

Check In With Yourself

Take an honest inventory of your mental health status: how are you feeling? What is shaping your behavior? If you are experiencing emotional distress or believe you have symptoms of depression, seek the help of a professional psychiatrist who can thoroughly evaluate you to help you gain a clear understanding of your psychological state. Give yourself permission to prioritize your health and get the help you need to restore your emotional and behavioral function, even if it means temporarily cutting down on work or taking a break. After all, your work is only a part of your life; your contract will end and you will still be there.

Residential Depression Treatment in Southern California

If you are experiencing depression that is not alleviated through outpatient care, seeking residential depression treatment can give you the quality and intensity of care you need. At Bridges to Recovery, we combine the most advanced clinical practices within a diverse array of specialized therapeutic modalities designed to alleviate depressive symptoms and relieve you of suffering. Within our serene Southern California facilities, you will have the time, space, and support to focus on your healing without the distractions of everyday life, allowing you to engage in deep self-discovery and personal growth to ultimately create a richer and more fulfilling life for yourself.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive depression treatment within an immersive therapeutic community. Contact us for more information about our innovative program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.