Mental health is a serious issue in the construction sector, yet stigma remains a concern putting many off seeking help. Sarah Baldry of Wysa explains how AI technology can offer discrete support
The construction sector has some of the worst rates of mental health compared to any other sector in the UK.
Men in the industry are three times more likely to die from suicide than the average male and 72% of firms in the sector admit to having no dedicated policy for providing mental health support.
Understanding Mental Health in the Built Environment, a study from CIOB in 2022, found 87% of construction workers experience anxiety, 70% experience depression, 26% have suicidal thoughts, and a huge 95% regularly experience poor concentration.
Poor mental health in the construction industry is an accident waiting to happen.
Yet we see time and time again that employers are ill-equipped to support employee mental health. This might be due to a lack of training and awareness amongst senior leaders, but also an element of wondering if it’s their issue to deal with. It is.
It’s stressful work
We know that there are numerous workplace stressors that carry mental health risks. The construction industry faces unique challenges that contribute to the widespread issue of poor mental health and wellness among its workers.
These challenges encompass various aspects, such as the prevalence of limited-term contracts, extensive working hours, long commutes, significant time spent away from family, and the pressure to complete projects both on time and within budget.
Financial uncertainties, including late payments for work, and unpredictability concerning the pipeline of future projects, further compound these challenges. And it may reach a crisis point.
In 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives; equivalent to two workers every day.
Work – especially in the construction industry – carries with it huge risk. To employees suffering. To employers supporting them. And to consumers who may suffer the fall out of poor build.
There needs to be a two part approach to managing employee mental health in the construction industry, and reducing risk. One that leverages technology, and places it in the context of an industry where stigma prevails, time is short, and stressors are significant.
And one that does not shift the responsibility from employer to employee, but takes a whole sector, organisation, and even societal approach, recognising mental health is everyone’s business.
There are traditional and more typical approaches such as training for managers to spot people in crisis, and awareness and advocacy initiatives to create cultural change to encourage people to reach out if they need help.
Many employee assistance programmes then offer access to qualified human support for those struggling with symptoms. But these rely on individuals to speak up and speak out, which we know can be hard.
A report into employee mental health, All Worked Up showed that one in three employees who need help have not spoken to a healthcare professional, with more than half citing embarrassment as a reason. The existing types of support leave gaps – gaps that if someone falls through them pose a huge risk.
Adding a digital channel helps mitigate that stigma, as an anonymous, always available and always ready way to get support in moments of struggle or crisis.
We asked workers who they’d rather go to about their mental health. Most employees chose a mental health app with personalised, clinically proven self-help resources over anyone in the workplace – in fact an astonishing 81% said that they would prefer to engage with the AI app than speak to HR.
Opening a digital channel
There are numerous benefits to digital channels. It’s convenient and always available – if someone is working shifts or need support in the middle of the night, they just pull out their phone.
It’s scalable – employers can provide it to everyone in their workforce, whether they are temporary or permanent staff.
It’s discrete – we know that one of the things that stops people from speaking up about mental health is stigma and judgement.
And it saves money. Employers using Wysa experience significant yearly savings associated with absenteeism, productivity and voluntary turnover.
AI tools provide support in-the-moment, but the most effective ones also have crisis escalation channels, with human crisis support being triggered one of three ways: Digital detection during AI conversation; clinical screenings and daily mood scores; or the user hitting an SOS button.
None of these require a manager to check in, or a culture in which someone feels confident to speak up – although these aspects should absolutely play part of a mental health strategy.
By providing anonymous aggregated data on the health of your workforce you know at any one time what interventions are needed and what are working, and can tailor resources effectively.
It’s about creating an approach that genuinely prevents risk, and isn’t just wellness washing, and backing this up with crisis escalation for those in severe need.
Digital tools offer an alternative pathway, backed up with analytics and measurement that empower you to empower your workers.
Traditional human methods sit alongside a second digital channel to help measure risk and manage employee health – changing the landscape for everyone.
Main image: Sarah Baldry is vice president of people and marketing at Wysa
Are you a building professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.