By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
The pseudo therapist is the ultimate manly man: part Ron Burgundy, part Dr. Phil, and part Burt Reynolds.
Meet Dr. Rich Mahogany, the hilarious, irreverent online doc who uses dark humor to combat the deadly serious topic of male depression and suicide. Dr. M, as his creators affectionately call him, teaches breathing exercises complete with the F-word so you can deal with your SOB boss and that “105-year-old lady doing 7 in the fast lane.” His idea of yoga is the seventh-inning stretch. He cleans his desk with a leaf blower, counts a long spell on the toilet as meditation and graduated from Porksausage University. So of course, his therapeutic recipe for guacamole includes bacon.
Launched in July by an unlikely trio — Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; the Denver advertising firm, Cactus Communications; and the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, a Colorado suicide prevention nonprofit — Man Therapy is heading Down Under.
Beyond Blue, Australia’s leading organization that fights depression, is adapting Man Therapy and plans to launch a national public education campaign this summer. At first, Australian mental health experts were leery of using the word therapy in the name of their site because of the stigma men attach to the concept.
But Joe Conrad, founder and CEO of Cactus, helped convince them that smashing that stigma was central to their concept.
“We’re not apologizing. We’re presenting it in a new light.”
As the Man Therapy creators explained in a PowerPoint presentation to a national conference of suicide experts:
“Men think therapy is for women and sissies. So they don’t seek the help that they need, when they need it. Let’s show them that therapy and honest talk can be masculine by providing them the therapist they need. A therapist who is a no-nonsense man’s man. A therapist who will tell it like it is. A therapist like Dr. Rich Mahogany.
“He’s part doctor, part football coach, part drinking buddy and 100 percent action hero.”
Before signing on, Beyond Blue did a study with Australian men and found they loved Dr. M’s wacky attitude. So they decided to stick with the name Man Therapy and are creating a fake Aussie colleague dubbed Dr. Byron Ironwood who supposedly studied in Vienna once upon a time with Mahogany.
The Aussie un-therapist therapist will dole out advice mirroring the U.S. website. Mental health experts in Canada and the United Kingdom also are planning to join the movement and likely will use Dr. Mahogany for their campaigns, said Jarrod Hindman, director of Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention.
Along with winning a raft of health and advertising awards, Conrad said he’s been humbled by the impact Man Therapy started having right out of the chutes.
On July 8, the day the site launched, the New York Times ran a story about Man Therapy. The site received more than 5,000 hits. That night, a message to Dr. Mahogany landed in Conrad’s inbox. It was from a 28-year-old combat veteran in Baton Rouge, La., who had been struggling with depression.
- 2011: 910 suicide deaths (Second highest ever after 2009 when 940 killed themselves)
- 7th leading cause of death for all Coloradans
- Suicides in 2011 exceeded deaths from homicide (195), motor vehicle crashes (482) and diabetes (790)
- Predominantly males (703) compared to females (207)
- Among the young, ages 10 to 34, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death
- Highest suicide rate is among those ages 45 to 64
- 8th highest rate in the U.S. (according to most recent statistics from 2010)
- Colorado consistently ranks among the top 10 states for the highest suicide rates
- Why? Could altitude be to blame? Click here to read more: Record suicide rate rocks Colorado
Source for data: Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Apparently the man’s therapist had seen the site and told him to check it out.
“He took time to write about what an incredible experience it was for him. He said he got a lot out of it and had already emailed the link to combat vets in his support group,” Conrad recalled.
“He has a young family and said the site already helped him think differently and want to continue in therapy. We didn’t create the site for vets or people outside of Colorado,” Conrad said.
But, Man Therapy is clearly resonating with veterans, cops and other guy’s guys around the U.S. and the world.
“We’ve seen it continue to pick up speed,” Conrad said.
For instance, he just shipped a box of materials to a supervisor with the Boston Police Department. And he received an email from the head of the Connecticut National Guard.
“They were finding the campaign really helpful. They had just lost three guys to suicide in the last six months,” Conrad said.
So far, Conrad says Man Therapy has generated over 225,000 unique visitors with an average of about 572 per day. Men, therapists or women concerned about men in their lives poke around on average for several minutes, an eternity in the online world. More than 50,000 visitors have taken the “18-point head inspection,” which generates advice and recommendations. Ninety percent of those who took the self-assessment reported that they were likely or very likely to use the advice.
The campaign also features billboards, bus shelter ads, drink coasters to distribute in bars and, of course, award-winning videos intended to go viral.
Funding for the $400,000 project came from the Anschutz Family Foundation. Now those funds are gone and the partners are applying for new grants and keeping the project alive through pro-bono work, professional kudos and word of mouth.
“I’ve never been closer to a campaign. It’s our baby,” Conrad said.
Some mental health professionals were skeptical at first because they thought the campaign was too edgy.
But that was precisely the point of it. Conrad and his team tried to come at the campaign from an entirely new vantage point.
- FWA Site of the Day international award
- The One Show for viral yoga video
- The Fifty: three awards
- A national ADDY
- Colorado Suicide Prevention Coalition media award
- Colorado Healthcare Communicators – Best of Show
“We were trying to create something for men. That’s what drove us, no predetermined idea of what would work,” he said.
Added Hindman: “We’ve created a venue for men to dip their toes in the water for mental health support and treatment. It’s a place where men can safely and anonymously learn some things, try some tips or tools. And if you need professional help, you’ve got to man up and get it.”
The need for help in Colorado and around the country is more urgent than ever. And targeting men in their middle years has proved prescient.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report earlier this month showing that suicides among middle-aged people rose dramatically from 1999 to 2010 both in the U.S. and in Colorado.
The suicide rate among people ages 35 to 64 increased across the U.S. by 28 percent during that period. Colorado consistently has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country and during that period saw an increase in the rate of suicides among people ages 35 to 64 from 25 to 41 percent.
Initially Man Therapy targeted men ages 25 to 54, but they are now expanding to reach men up to 64 years old.
Man Therapy’s veneer is humor. Check out the yoga video to see Dr. M’s 1970s Rocky-era shiny “yoga shorts.”
Try taking the self-assessment and you’ll see questions like this: “Did you know koalas sleep 18 hours a day? Lazy little bastards. Tell me about your sleep habits.”
There’s a section of the site called Gentlemental Health 101. Dr. M does a trust fall with himself in the Group Therapy section. There’s “One-on-None,” DIY therapy. And of course, there’s a section on “Competitive Therapy” where you’ll get to see Dr. M naked and learn about “exercise, camaraderie, sweating, winning and/or hoisting championship trophies.”
Beneath the spoofs, however, there’s real advice, an omnipresent red phone with links to suicide help lines and ways to connect with other men or real therapists.
“We want depression to be a health issue. It’s been separated out as a mental health issue. Obviously one’s brain is part of one’s body. We should screen for it, just like they check your heart…just like asking about smoking or the number of drinks you have,” Hindman said.
The serious intent of the campaign is to reach men before they’re in crisis.
“There’s a huge void,” said Conrad. “Guys really bottle up their feelings. Unlike women, they don’t have networks of support. They tend to swallow their emotions. We tapped into something that’s universal.
“The strategy was not to wait for someone to hit a crisis, to catch things before they become a crisis. It’s much more of an early-intervention, prevention campaign,” Conrad said.
“We still have only scratched the surface with the potential impact.”