The experience of having depression while freelancing

Vincent Wood
Vincent Wood

Former freelancer

Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our brand new Self-Employed Support Hub and the Mind Your Business initiative from Simply Business.

Here, Vincent Wood, a former freelance writer, shares his story of working in such a volatile position while also experiencing depression. He also offers some advice for those who find themselves in a similar position.


Freelancing can open you up to a world of working freedoms, but it also comes with its own set of challenges and uncertainties that can be particularly tricky for those of us who suffer from mental health problems. I’ve always been grateful for freelancing as it was through this form of work I was able to pick up my first professional writing job as well as turning to it in moments of financial hardship​Financial wellbeing: breaking down the last taboo Web page We don't always feel comfortable talking about money. This article by Joe Marshall, Associate Editor at CBI, explores ways employers can make financial wellbeing part of the workplace conversation. Free By: CBI View resource.

I also, however, associate it with unemployment, and so it’s become both a blessing and a curse.

The hard reality of it was that I was not making enough

A copy/content writer by trade, writing has always been my passion and I’ve always sought to work in the field, but it hasn’t always come easily. With little experience post-university​Graduate mental wellbeing in the workplace PDF Starting your first 'proper job' out of university can be a challenging time. This guide explores where new graduates struggle the most and what employers can do to help.Free By: Student Minds View resource, I turned to doing pro-bono work in order to build up a portfolio, and freelancing for well below a decent rate, just so I could claim professional writing credits on my CV.

The hard reality of it was that I was not making enough​Coping with the rising cost of living Web page This web page from Step Change offers advice about managing debt, as well as explaining what benefits you might be entitled to.Free By: Step Change View resource from writing to survive and struggling to find work, both freelance and full time, and on top of that, I’d recently been diagnosed with depression.

A man works on a laptop in a bar

Struggling with depression​Symptoms of depression and their effects on employment PDF At least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. This report addresses some key questions about how depression can affect work. Free By: The Work Foundation View resource is one thing, but having a lack of income and feelings of failure and inadequacy​Amber Le Bon’s experiences of imposter syndrome Video Amber Le Bon shares her stories of uncomfortable moments in the industry, her anxiety and panic attacks, and of the 'little voice' she sometimes hears telling her she is not meant to be a model.Free By: The Be Well Collective View resource feed into that just exacerbated the situation. At the same time, however, finding snippets of work, no matter how small or fleeting, was also a lifeline in a time of desperate need.

With that in mind, there are ways of working with depression as a freelancer but it’s not without its own set of trials and tribulations. So, what exactly are these issues and what can you do in order to minimise their impact?

Having a set routine can really help ground you

No Consistency

The most obvious challenge that comes from freelancing with a mental health issue is dealing with the lack of consistency. As almost anyone will tell you when it comes to dealing with depression, having a set routine​Maintaining team routines Web page Routines have proven psychological benefits. In times of high stress and high uncertainty, such as the coronavirus pandemic, establishing a degree of stability can be an effective way for managers to protect wellbeing in their teams.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource can really help ground you and let you regain a sense of normalcy when you’re feeling down about things.

The problem with freelancing is that it just doesn’t work that way. Without consistent contracts or a steady workflow, it’s entirely down to you to create what routine you can.

Whilst this may seem like an impossibility, the best way to look at this is to include the constant search for work into your daily habits, setting time aside to complete the work you have in hand, update your own books etc. and then also building in a portion of the day to reach out to others or look for new opportunities.

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Lack of Motivation

A massive problem for myself, when suffering particularly badly from depression, is a lack of motivation​​CIPD factsheet: employee engagement and motivation Web page Employees who have good quality jobs and are managed well will be happier, healthier and more fulfilled, and are likely to be more productive too. This factsheet introduces the concept of employee engagement.FreeSign up for free on CIPD website By: CIPD View resource. Whether it be spending days in bed or just not wanting to commit to anything, the freedoms of freelancing can mean you’re so often tempted to just not bother looking for work at all and just wallow in your own self-pity.

Fighting that urge can be a struggle but the benefits of having got up and felt productive are self-evident, especially when that productivity leads to an income and, potentially, more work.

I’ve often just been straight up scared to take on or tackle work

For me, I’ve always oscillated between not wanting to do anything and yet not wanting to disappoint anyone and so I quite often yo-yo between crises as I try to drag the spirit of inspiration out of myself whilst frantically trying not to anger or upset anyone​Difficult work relations Web page This page from Mind explores ways of managing difficult working relationships, either with colleagues or managers. It also includes a section on what to do if you're worried you're being bullied. Free By: Mind View resource by missing deadlines. This can lead to situations where I’ve often just been straight up scared to take on or tackle work and that fear doesn’t necessarily ever go away.

If you’re not a particularly money motivated person, this can then become really problematic but the freelancer life offers you certain freedoms and you have to balance those with the limitations it brings too.

In writing, as in most things, you have to keep working to move forward. No matter how much you plan, or set out to only pick up things that suit you, you need to keep producing to keep your name out there and have an up-to-date portfolio to generate more work, so finding that well source of inspiration can be self-sustaining but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

People chat at a networking event

Lack of Communication

With no set manager, and not being on the regular payroll, communication can be a little spotty with some clients. This would be okay if it didn’t plague you with a sense of uncertainty, and it’s down to you to drive those conversations. Don’t be afraid to let clients who you’ve worked with before know that you are available and looking for work, and if they’ve mentioned a potential opportunity, it’s not impolite to follow up and ask if it’s still available.

Did Vincent’s story resonate with you? Check out our resources for the self-employed, freelancers and sole traders here.

You can also visit Mental Health at Work’s dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing, and the Mind Your Business initiative by Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners.

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