This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and to mark the occasion, I wanted to discuss an issue that affects a lot of people in the web development industry, but is rarely talked about.
Web development can be considered a creative discipline, and according to a recent study those who work in a creative profession are more likely to be predisposed to mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety to name but a few.
In my experience of 20 years in the field of web design and development, the sheer number of individuals who work in solitude, at home or in an office, often by choice is very evident, and is exacerbated by the booming gig economy.
It’s fair to say that for many this is a conscious choice, but how healthy is home working or working alone, and can it increase the likelihood of developing a mental health condition?
Are You At Risk?
The fact that many web developers frequently work alone, and often at unsociable hours raises an immediate red flag, and I speak from experience.
In an office environment, being able to bounce ideas and problems around with colleagues provides an instant opportunity to let off steam, but when working alone in a box room at home or in a small office, who do you turn to, and at what point to you realise things have got on top of you?
By their nature, many web developers are not the best communicators, which I guess is why many are happy to sit in a darkened room writing hundreds of lines of code a day.
In fact, the specialised nature of coding and the type of mindset it requires has shown that a large percentage of web developers are individuals with autistic tendencies who often display hyper-intelligent characteristics.
As a result of the very nature of these conditions, individuals can find standing up and admitting they’re not coping extremely difficult.
Create A Support Network
Support networks can come in many different forms, and different people will find specific types of support that work for them.
Join A Local Developer Group
Many areas will have local meet-ups often specific to a particular developer platform or code-base. This can be a great way not only to meet folks with similar interests to yours, but can often lead to new business relationships and work.
Another benefit of these meetups is that you actually get you out of your office and interact with people face-to-face, breaking that cycle of continual solitude.
Subscribe To An Online Community
It’s fair to say there will be many developers for who meeting up with others just doesn’t work, due to location or other issues.
In this case, it’s still possible to collaborate with others via Slack groups or similar chat environments. There are even organisations like WP&UP which is a UK registered charity aimed at providing mental health support for the WordPress community.
The key is to find a method of talking with others that suits you, in the most positive way possible.
Find Time To Step Away From That Computer
This is a really important one. Taking time out away from the computer and work, and away from what can often be quite a claustrophobic environment is essential.
I am fortunate enough to live in a fairly rural part of Hampshire in the UK, and being a dog owner I find the best tonic when I need to clear my head is to take my dog for a walk in the fields.
If you’re not a dog owner, you can still find a way to refresh the soul, be it going for a run, taking a swim, or even dropping into your local coffee shop to reward yourself with a flat white and a sticky bun!
Whatever your choice, stepping a way from your computer for an hour or two (not to play the latest version of Battlefield on your XBox!) can really improve your mood and blow away those cobwebs.
Talk to Family & Friends
This sounds obvious right? Families can be complex units, but if you have a positive relationship with family members, don’t be afraid to speak up and say you’re not having a great day.
I went through some difficulties of my own some years back, and what I found really useful was to pick up the phone to my Mum and tell her what kind of day I was having.
My best friend lives in Canada, but we Skype often, and even being able to shoot the breeze with him is a great way to relieve the tension of any particular day.
Don't Be Afraid To Put Yourself First
To summarise, the best advice I would give anyone who feels they’re not coping, is to make time for YOU. Step away from the computer regularly, find time to do something you enjoy that doesn’t involve staring at the screen, and above all, communicate.
I am as guilty as anyone for giving myself a hard time when deadlines are looming, or doing that extra half day without pay to impress a client, but sometimes it’s really OK to take time off and allow yourself downtime to connect with yourself, friends and family.
Above all, as someone once said to me…. It’s just work, man!