Dude, I'm Sad: Man Therapy Addresses Lack Of Male Mental Health Resources

Earlier this month, in what Axios called “a deep culture shift by one of the nation's most macho and barbaric sports,” viewers of “Monday Night Football” saw players weeping openly on the field after the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest. And the NFL and its teams were quick to offer all players mental health resources.

Obviously, a lot has changed from just five years ago this month, when Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps shocked the public by revealing his history of mental health struggles.

Yet outside the sports world, there are still male-dominated areas where progress in this area is noticeably slower.

Take  construction.

A new study on that industry, conducted by Dodge Construction Network in partnership with Infotech and Hexagon, found only 34% of contractor respondents reporting that staff at their company have good access to resources that help address mental health issues. That’s a serious lack, since the Centers For Disease Control recognizes construction industry workers as at higher risk of suicide than many other kinds of workers.

So on the same day that study came out, I was pleased to read elsewhere that one international construction firm, Hensel Phelps, was addressing mental health issues for its blue-collar workforce.

Fictional character Dr. Rich Mahogany stars in three customized videos for the company to use internally.

Dr. Mahogany was created by Colorado’s Cactus agency a decade ago for its “Man Therapy” pro bono effort to address male mental health issues and suicide prevention in the state.

At the time, The New York Times described Dr. Mahogany as “an affable, mustachioed, middle-aged man whose personality might be described as Dr. Phil meets Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell's fictional anchorman."

Though a bit older and now dressed as a construction worker, Dr. Mahogany hasn’t otherwise changed much in the Hensel Phelps videos: "Counting,” “Protein Shake” and “Yoga for Men.”

Once again using humor to present “manly” advice, he offers such pearls of wisdom as “They say there’s no problem a couple of beers can’t fix, but what if those couple of beers are the problem?”

The spots also use visual humor, such as Dr. Mahogany demonstrating fake, but funny, yoga poses (as above).

In my favorite of the three spots, the doc, holding up a hammer, addresses “uncomfortable anger” and “Taking care of what’s inside your skull.” He shows how to relieve rage  by counting backwards from 10 to one --d uring which a noise causes him to drop a heavy hammer on his foot.

While the Hensel Phelps spots are the first new Mahogany videos in a decade, Man Therapy itself has never gone away. Over the years, Cactus has licensed Man Therapy as a turnkey multimedia campaign to dozens of entities targeting a wide range of men, including government-funded health organizations in 15 states, and such industries as the military, law enforcement and commercial fishing.

And Man Therapy’s website, which is where all Dr. Mahogany marketing materials point to, has kept chugging away. The site has now accounted for 1.5 million web sessions, 3.7 million resources viewed, 400,000 completed “head inspections” (20 questions concerning the responder’s past seven days), and 40,000 direct connections to a a crisis line. 

Along the way, Cactus has also created Grit Digital Health, which now runs not only Man Therapy, but has also developed a mental health and well-being platform now used by more than 200 colleges and universities, Joe Conrad, founder and chief executive officer of both Cactus and Grit, tells Pharma and Health Insider.

Most recently, a five-year, $1.2 million study funded by the CDC found that men who access Man Therapy as a digital mental health intervention reported a decrease in depression and suicidal ideation, a reduction in poor mental health days, and an increase in help-seeking behavior.

Conrad says that while he could always point to “stories of men telling us that Man Therapy changed their lives…we now have clear evidence that it’s working.”

Indeed, he notes that a lot has changed since Dr. Mahogany first offered up advice.

“When we launched 10 years ago, the stigma around men’s mental health was very strong. Now, men are talking about their feelings and being open is more prevalent,” Conrad  says. “It’s certainly moving in a positive direction. We like to think we played a small role in that move."

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