Far too many men, especially those of working age, are losing their lives to an ever-expanding public health problem – suicide. As the single biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45 (Schumacher 2019), it is the often a lack of willingness to acknowledge their own mental health (Moller-Leimkuhler, 2002) in conjunction with the ideals of rugged individualism which results in social fragmentation and fewer coping alternatives (Spencer-Thomas, Hindman & Conrad 2012).
Man Therapy is a suicide prevention campaign targeting working-aged men which arose as the result of a non-profit partnership between Cactus, a Denver-based advertising agency, the Office of Suicide Prevention and the Carson J Spencer Foundation, a suicide prevention non-profit organisation. The transdisciplinary design initiative utilises a top-down approach in which the first five years of the project was dedicated to research from 8 focus groups and in-depth interviews (Spencer-Thomas, Hindman & Conrad 2014). Their multi-channel campaign which was rolled out in 2012 lends itself to television, radio, social media, print media and billboards in order to encourage men to visit their interactive website, http://www.mantherapy.org. There, they can interact with the fictitious Dr. Rich Mahogany to learn more about men’s mental health, partake in a ‘head inspection’ (self-assessment) and browse custom tools and resources designed to lead them to recovery.
Man Therapy takes on a bold stance, playing on typical notions of masculinity and dark humour to bridge to new ideas that destigmatise mental health. Thus, the program was quickly expanded from a suicide prevention initiative to a men’s mental health campaign to reshape the conversation around issues such as depression, divorce, violence, stress and substance abuse.
For most, the ‘manspeak’ and humour resonated with them and allowed them to rethink their mental health as ‘the last place that a person struggling wants to go is a ‘sterile’ site that sucks out that last bit of dignity’ (Spencer-Thomas, Hindman & Conrad 2014). Some thought the campaign was problematic in that it was too light of an approach to a grim issue and argued that a bit of humour was effective in dealing with this area but a whole website was overboard. However, the campaign was a success as the pop-up survey found that 83% would recommend to a friend in need and that the average time spent on the site was 5-7 minutes (Spencer-Thomas, Hindman & Conrad 2014), which suggests most are taking their time to explore the resources there.
In Indonesia, 66.6% of males use tobacco daily (The Tobacco Atlas 2015) and from this Man Therapy case study, it is evident that targeting a very specific sub-population of men can be highly effective. Placing advertisements where men often frequented (bars, bathrooms, sporting events, etc.) created awareness and thereby drew visitors to the website where behaviour and attitude change could then take place.
In the FCTC, the first guiding principle is that people ‘should be informed of the health consequences, addictive nature and mortal threat posed by tobacco consumption’ (World Health Organization 2009), and a website like Man Therapy could be highly successful in accomplishing this. Thus in this case, a light approach to a grim issue, but still with the right amount of sensitivity could prove helpful in drawing attention to the issues behind tobacco consumption.
Moller-Leimkuhler, A. M. 2002, ‘Barriers to help-seeking by men: a review of sociocultural and clinical literature with particular reference to depression’, Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 71, pp. 1-9.
Schumacher, H. 2019, ‘Why More Men Die by Suicide Then Women’, BBC, 18 March, viewed 15 November 2019, <https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190313-why-more-men-kill-themselves-than-women>.
Spencer-Thomas, S., Hindman, J., Conrad, J. 2014, ‘Man Therapy: Outreach and Impact on Men’s Mental Health Program 18 Months After Launch, Man Therapy.
Spencer-Thomas, S., Hindman, J., Conrad, J. 2012, ‘Man Therapy: An Innovative Approach to Suicide Prevention for Working Aged Men’,Man Therapy.
The Tobacco Atlas 2015, Indonesia, 2019 American Cancer Society, Inc. and Vital Strategies, viewed 17 November 2019, <https://tobaccoatlas.org/country/indonesia/>.
World Health Organization 2009, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: Guidelines for Implementation : Article 5.3, Article 8, Article 11, Article 13, Sydney.