Man Therapy™: Using Humor to Engage 'Double-Jeopardy' Men to Think About Mental Health in a Different Way

New program aims to tackle mental health issues and suicidal thoughts among men, a population often hesistant to ask for help.
New program aims to tackle mental health issues and suicidal thoughts among men, a population often hesistant to ask for help.

“You can't fix your mental health with duct tape,” advises Dr. Richard Mahogany, a fictional therapist who is “manning up” mental health at www.ManTherapy.org.

The team behind this innovative mental health program — a public-private nonprofit partnership comprising Colorado's Office of Suicide Prevention, Cactus (a full-service marketing firm), and the Carson J. Spencer Foundation — designed this campaign initially as an upstream approach to stem the tide of the tens of thousands of men dying by suicide each year.  At the outset of program development, the Man Therapy creators sought to fill the gap of the lack of comprehensive prevention efforts targeting men in the face of increasing suicide rates for men in their middle years.

The team decided to take an unapologetic, bold stance to reach those men at greatest risk for suicide and created Dr. Rich Mahogany to help translate the issue and solutions of mental health into a language that resonated with these individuals. Knowing that not all men deal with mental health problems in the same way, the team focused on reaching a specific subgroup: men with the most risk factors who were also the least likely to seek help — in other words, “double-jeopardy men.”

Man Therapy Program Research and Development

For many men, acknowledging mental health problems or suicidal thoughts can be challenging due to deeply engrained conditioning to be strong and self-sufficient. Denial of mental health problems coupled with the common behavior of not accessing available services contributes to the high suicide rate among men.1 While recent evidence indicates that women and men experience similar rates of depression, men account for only one in 10 diagnosed cases of depression,2 and research suggests that 50% to 65% of depressive episodes in men go undiagnosed.

Further, many men are hesitant to ask for help, communicate inner feelings, or form groups around emotional issues.3 While it is true that men seek help less frequently than women regardless of age, nationality, or ethnic and racial background, Man Therapy argues that the trend is due in part to men's socialization and in part to health delivery systems and not entirely to “men behaving badly.”

Gender role socialization theories4 offer a perspective that helps explain these statistics. Cultural tenets of achievement, aggression, competitiveness, and emotional isolation are consistent with the masculine stereotype; depressive symptoms are not.  Cultural ideals of rugged individualism lead to social fragmentation and fewer coping alternatives.  These data suggest that traditional approaches to reaching men with mental health and suicide prevention messages have been mostly unsuccessful and new innovative approaches need to be explored and developed.

In 2007, the Office of Suicide Prevention, the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, and Cactus Marketing Communications forged a partnership and set out to uncover a new approach to preventing suicide among men of working age. For the next two years the team conducted 8 focus groups and 8 in-depth interviews to help answer the questions:

  • How do we reach men in distress who do not access mental health services?
  • How do we bring suicidal or highly distressed men “back to life”?

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