Why Are Freelancers So Depressed?

I was looking for ideas for this blog and, to jog my brain, I googled some freelance phrases to see what others were looking up regarding freelance careers. I typed in “Should freelancers…” and “Why are freelancers...” — and Google’s third suggestion for the latter literally made me laugh out loud. Why are freelancers so depressed?

Are we? Are freelancers severely depressed? I have both anxiety and depression, but is that because of my freelancing, or are people with depression more likely to take up freelancing?

According to a few of the articles that pop up in response to this query, there are myriad reasons for freelancer depression.

Fast Company says that several factors contribute to freelancer depression, including the slippery slope of autonomy (suddenly, you realize that being your own boss isn’t that fun; everything’s on YOU); an inability to separate work and home life; money woes; isolation; and the high risk that comes with freelancing.

The Cut mentions other factors, such as the fear of disappointing clients, overwhelming deadlines and a lack of true vacations. Still, other articles mention a lack of meaningful work, a lack of respect and a lack of hope for the future.

All of this leads me to the idea that, for many freelancers, they maybe didn’t have severe depression before starting freelancing; maybe they didn’t have depression at all or they had a more circumstances-based depression that only became exacerbated under the pressures of freelancing, making itself more known and continuous. It also leads me to the idea that there are a lot of freelancers who probably shouldn’t be freelancing. Here’s why.

Freelancing requires discomfort, and for you to be comfortable with that discomfort.

My therapist made a comment once: “You really avoid being uncomfortable at all costs, don’t you?” My immediate response was something along the lines of, “But how can I be uncomfortable with discomfort, if I’m a freelancer? Freelancers are constantly dealing with the uncomfortable unknown!”

While my therapist did have a point and I do avoid being uncomfortable in most situations, I’ve become very comfortable with the discomfort that comes with freelancing. It’s something that’s difficult to do and requires a certain amount of hubris.

Freelancing comes with many unknowns. Where will I make my money three months down the road? What if my client hates this latest piece? What if I break both my hands in a freak accident and can no longer type?

The secret to living with these unknowns is to develop a high level of confidence in your own skills and background. You have to become fine with not knowing all of the above.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t know where your money will come from three months down the road, because you know how to find work and you will find assignments yet again. It doesn’t matter if your client hates a piece, because you know it’s a good piece. If you break your hands in a freak accident, you’ll use voice-to-text and figure it out. You have to assuredly know that, whatever happens, you’ve got this.

Freelancing requires knowing what you want and the drive to get it.

Unfortunately, the autonomy that comes with freelancing is exactly the downfall of many a new freelancer. Some people just aren’t cut out to be their own boss. They don’t have great self-management skills when it comes to the workplace. But to be a successful (and hopefully not a depressed) freelancer, you need the ability to identify what you want and then the drive to get it.

That means, if you want respect from your colleagues, you have to establish yourself as a worthy person in your industry. If you want a vacation and home-life balance, you have to set healthy boundaries with your clients. If you want work-related social opportunities, you have to seek them out. Network, join freelancer Twitter chats, join a local young professionals group. If you want a secure future, you have to start setting aside retirement money each month. If you want more meaningful work, you have to find it (while realizing that some of that less-than-meaningful work keeps the lights on and your kids fed, enabling you to search out that meaningful work).

In other words, it’s realizing that no one is going to hand any of this to you. You have to reach out and take it.

(But it also means recognizing which of these things that you don’t want. Many very visible freelancers on social media and the blogosphere will tell you that you NEED networking and respect and retirement savings, but that’s not always the case (okay, you definitely do need retirement savings). If you’re fine with working in isolation, or if you don’t care for flashy bylines and you prefer to work behind-the-scenes, that’s fine, too.)

Freelancing also requires you to be real with yourself.

But you’ll never be happy with freelancing if you’re not real and honest with yourself.

Do you want to throw in the towel and go back to a more traditional job? If so, that’s fine. No shame.

Do you suck at being your own boss? Maybe freelancing, as much as you like working in your pajamas, isn’t right for you. Look for remote opportunities that allow you both your pajamas and some external guidelines.

Do you maybe struggle with depression that goes above and beyond your freelancing circumstances and maybe need some counseling and possibly some meds? Address it.

If you’re depressed as a freelancer, don’t sit and stew in your feelings. Take a good hard look at what’s wrong and how you can make it right, because being a freelancer is a wonderful thing for many people, and no, not all freelancers are depressed.

Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and copywriter who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.

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Holly Riddle

Holly Riddle

Content creator, full-time freelancer. Passionate about non-traditional careers. Published thousands of articles for hundreds of clients.