Identifying solutions for difficult problems like rising suicide rates among working-aged men (25-54 years old) requires bold and innovative thinking. In the United States, men account for 78% of all completed suicides and are roughly four-times more likely than women to die by suicide. It goes without saying that this is a complex issue with many unique, contributing variables, and to effectively address it, the solution must take a non-traditional approach.
While there’s no magic answer, when it comes to preventing suicide for a group that is historically difficult to connect with like working-aged men, our team at Grit Digital Health believes that the best defense is a good offense. This core belief is what drove us to develop our groundbreaking men’s mental health campaign: Man Therapy.
Mental Health Isn’t Funny… Is It?
Created in 2012 as part of a multi-agency effort between Cactus, Grit Digital Health, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Man Therapy is designed to show men that taking care of their mental health and seeking help is the manliest thing a man can do. After years of research, it was increasingly clear that to successfully reach men, a solution was needed that not only went upstream of crisis, but directly spoke a language that men understood. Man Therapy was designed with input from a multidisciplinary team of suicidologists, mental health experts, marketing strategists, and creatives to be the first mental health solution to talk to men like men talk to men.
Baked into the heart of the campaign is a humor-based approach that is meant to break the ice, reduce stigma, decrease barriers to help seeking, and smash the notion that men can’t engage with their mental health. Using taglines like “It’s a physical for your feelings, but you get to keep your pants on,” and “Sometimes a man needs a pork shoulder to cry on,” Man Therapy makes mental health approachable, and far less risky, for even the hardest-to-reach men.
However, Man Therapy is much more than a simple awareness-raising ad campaign. ManTherapy.org was created as the digital, fictional office of therapist Dr. Rich Mahogany – a no-nonsense man’s man who asserts that honest talk and awareness of one’s problems is how to solve them. Once on the site, men can take our proprietary 20-point head inspection, which allows them to assess their mental health, learn about areas that might require the proverbial tune-up, and connect with a free and open-access bank of resources to take proper action with their unique mental health journey.
Additionally, through exploration of our trademark Gentlemental Health, One-On-None Therapy, and Did You Know? question and answer cards, Man Therapy provides a free, open, and anonymous tool that takes a comprehensive and actionable approach to normalizing difficult mental health topics for every man (such as depression, anger, anxiety, difficult transitions, sleep, relationships and sex, and suicidal ideation). It is a true one-stop-shop for men to pop the hood on their mental health and get help prior to finding themselves at a point of crisis.
A Decade-Long Record of Delivering Impact
Since its genesis, Man Therapy has continued to provide impact-driven results, making mental health support accessible for men across the globe. Over the course of the past decade, the website has seen:
- 1.5 million+ visits
- 450,000+ head inspections taken
- 40,000+ crisis line resource connections
- 3.8 million+ pageviews
The campaign has been featured in news outlets like The Atlantic, The New York Times, Insider, Fierce Healthcare, and it was even named Ad Age’s Pro Bono Campaign of the Year in 2013. Most recently, however, a four-year, $1.2 million CDC-funded research study in the state of Michigan was published, which evaluated Man Therapy’s effectiveness in reducing suicidal ideation and depression among working-aged men.
The two studies, which highlighted results from a randomized controlled trial, were published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology. The first publication explored how effective digital public health approaches, including Man Therapy, were in measurably improving mental health for men. The results from this study were overwhelmingly positive, with 80% of men improving on depression and reduced poor mental health days, and 36% of men moving from “high” to “moderate or low” for depression and suicide risk.
A follow on study, completed by Dr. Jodi Frey and her team at BHWellLab, sought to explore how Man Therapy fared specifically against other public health campaigns in improving men’s mental health. The results from that study showed that ManTherapy.org not only reduced depression and suicidal ideation scores, it also uniquely reduced overall days of poor mental health, improved perceived problem solving for social support and connecting with others, and treatment motivation as compared to other, similar public health campaigns for men. These results prove that Man Therapy is uniquely positioned to get men to both engage and take action with their mental health by seeking help through more traditional means of treatment.
And while press coverage and metrics-based results are undoubtedly important to our work, nothing matters more than the direct outreaches we receive from men and their loved ones about how Man Therapy saved their lives. Like this one we received from Joe R. who came across Man Therapy one night while he was feeling “depressed and desperate,” claiming: “I sensed a faint glimmer of light in the darkness. It saved my life that night.”
Moving forward, our team believes we are just scratching the surface of Man Therapy’s potential to expand its mental health impact and reduce suicide in working-aged men. Through our growing network of strategic partnerships, Man Therapy is evolving to better meet the needs of local governments, mental health brands, and individual mental health champions in their communities, while also striving to create a more inclusive approach to men’s mental health support.
What we know for certain is that our evidence-based and research-backed approach provides a unique opportunity to provide men with a community-based resource that connects them with the tools they need prior to reaching a point of crisis. With a primary goal of driving reach and impact, Man Therapy is truly a groundbreaking solution that will continue to help men break the stigma around mental health, connect to life-saving resources, and open-field tackle life’s issues.