Sarah Baldry is vice-president of people and marketing at artificial intelligence-based healthcare service Wysa
The construction sector has some of the worst rates of mental health among business sectors in the UK, with men in the industry three times more likely to die from suicide than the average male. Yet, despite this, three-quarters (72 per cent) of firms in the sector admit to having no dedicated policy for providing mental health support. In 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives, equivalent to two workers every day.
“AI-led therapy tools are discrete by their nature, addressing the issue of stigma in male-dominated industries where secrecy and embarrassment prevail”
The construction industry grapples with unique mental health challenges due to factors like short-term contracts, long hours, extended commutes and time away from family. Dominated by a ‘macho’ culture that has traditionally discouraged shows of weakness, it is a profession where financial uncertainties and workplace bullying only add to the strain. Employees in high-pressure industries like construction face significant mental health risks, including depression, anxiety and the potential for work-related suicide.
The failure to recognise, monitor and address the risk of work-related suicide poses a major and ongoing threat to the health and safety of employees, the quality of construction delivered, and employer reputation – not to mention the bottom line. These risks not only impact on the individual employee, but also have broader consequences for their colleagues and the quality of work produced. Mistakes arising from mental struggles may lead to injuries and accidents, affecting both employees and end users of the infrastructure they build. This presents a direct cost to employers, not only in terms of human accidents, but also in insurance and brand perception.
Mitigating risks with technology
To address these challenges, it makes sense to adopt a dual approach – one that incorporates advances in technology and cultural change within an industry where stigma, time constraints and significant stressors are prevalent. It’s time for construction companies to move beyond placing responsibility on the employee, or manager, and instead adopt a holistic strategy that involves both traditional and digital mental health interventions.
Traditional methods include morning stand-ups to openly talk about problems; signage around construction sites; and manager training to identify employees in need of human counselling, such as through employee assistance programmes. These strategies are important to overcome stigma and provide access to professional support. However, such methods rely on individuals to acknowledge that they need help, which can be difficult due to stigma and embarrassment. Our research indicates that more than half of employees needing help choose not to consult healthcare professionals due to time constraints, embarrassment and the inability to understand when it’s time to reach out despite suffering significant symptoms. These traditional support pathways also tend to be taken up very late in someone’s mental health journey, often intervening when a person is already at crisis point, by which time recovery is difficult.
Digital tools like AI-led mental health apps offer complementary solutions that bridge the gaps left by traditional support. They provide anonymity, accessibility and immediacy, appealing to workers who may be reluctant to reach out for help. In fact, an astonishing 81 per cent of those we spoke to said they would prefer a clinically validated app with self-help resources than to go to HR. AI-led therapy tools can offer personalised support. These apps are discrete by their nature, always ready and always available, scalable and convenient, addressing the issue of stigma, especially in male-dominated industries where secrecy and embarrassment prevail. Importantly, they are able to detect when someone is in crisis and encourage them to call emergency crisis lines or book time with a therapist.
Combining traditional, human-focused methods with digital tools allows for a comprehensive approach to mental health management. This broad strategy not only mitigates risks but also fosters a supportive environment, demonstrating a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing beyond mere wellness gestures. By taking a dual channel approach that starts with awareness, advocacy and a broad commitment to wellbeing, with the additional layer of clinically validated digital interventions with risk prevention built in, employers can effectively manage and measure mental health risks. This way, they can empower their workforce and ensure a healthier, safer working environment.