Fatherhood and Man Therapy: Because taking care of your mental health is the manliest thing a father can do.

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Father’s Day this year was a time of remembrance and blessing. I have five grown children, seventeen grandchildren, and two great grandchildren—a true blessing. I also remembered my own father who had become increasingly depressed when he couldn’t make a living doing what he loved to do and took an overdose of sleeping pills believing that if he couldn’t support his family, he was a failure as a man and didn’t deserve to live.

            I was five years old when he took the pills and ended up being committed to the state mental hospital. I grew up wondering what happened to me father and when it would happen to me. I went with my uncle every Sunday to visit my father and wrote about our shared journey dealing with depression in my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound.

            I have spent most of my life learning about men’s mental, emotional, and relational illness and health and trying to understand what causes so many men to feel so hopeless they want to die. I got some important insights into my father’s state of mind when I found the journals that he had kept during the years leading up to his hospitalization.

            This was one of the early entries:

                 “I feel full of confidence in my writing ability. I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows. I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play. Last night I dreamt about candy. There was more candy than I could eat. Does it mean I’ll be rewarded for all my efforts? Has it anything to do with sex?”

            Three years later, he was still out of work and his writing had grown darker:

                “June 4th: Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.”

               “November 8th: A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

             “I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

            Six days after his November 8th entry, my father took the pills. Though he didn’t die, our lives were never the same. Both men and women become depressed and many contemplate suicide. I have been there myself and, over the years, I have treated many men and women for depression.

            We know that men, as a group, die younger and suffer from disease and disability and higher rates than women, as a group. This is depressingly true when we look at suicide statistics. Numerous studies have shown that on average, men die from suicide at four times the rate of women. My father was fortunate. He didn’t die. But too many men die before their time. Fortunately, there are a few who are trying to do something to improve men’s mental health in a big way.

Joe Conrad and Man Therapy:

            I first heard about “Man Therapy” when I read an article about it and reached out to Dr. Mahogany. It took me awhile before I met Joe Conrad, the man behind ManTherpy.org. I invited Joe to join our Moonshot for Mankind group and contribute to our new book, Long Live Men! The Moonshot Mission to Heal Men, Close the Lifespan Gap, and Offer Hope to Humanity. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

            “At some point in my life, I went from acting like a boy to behaving like a man. For me, it happened at Colorado State University sometime during my senior year. I had a job writing for the Rocky Mountain Collegian, which is where I found my voice. I wrote a series of stories about US military veterans returning from Vietnam and their difficult transition back to civilian life. I covered issues around the growing environmental movement. And I wrote my first editorial encouraging students to vote in the upcoming election and the importance of being informed citizens. I was creating something, putting it out into the world, and it felt great.

“In 1990 I started Cactus, a purpose-driven ad agency focused on working with nonprofit organizations, foundations, and brands to help bring a powerful voice to their work. Since day one, our mission has been to create sharp ideas for brands that help people thrive.

One day while leading a workshop for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, I was approached by the director of the Office of Suicide Prevention, Jarrod Hindman. He said, ‘Joe, do you know that there is an epidemic out there and that working-age men are killing themselves at an alarming rate?’

“I had no idea that five out of seven suicides were men from all walks of life, demographics, and socioeconomic backgrounds. As our friendship grew, he would visit my office every month to talk about the issue, and we decided that somehow, some way, we would do something. We recruited Sally Spencer Thomas, who led a suicide prevention foundation, to join our team, and the three of us set out to find a path forward. Against all odd and on a shoe-string budget, my team at Cactus created our agency’s best and most impactful campaign. We treated this challenge like we do every project and gave the campaign the same love and attention to creativity, production craft and a meaningful digital experience where therapy happens.

“We explored a number of creative approaches, but one idea stood out and was the obvious choice –– Man Therapy. The centerpiece of the campaign is a website, ManTherapy.org, hosted by a fictional therapist named Dr. Rich Mahogany. However, Dr. Rich is not your typical therapist. He tells it like it is and uses humor to convince guys that taking care of their mental health is the manliest thing a man could do. When landing on the website, visitors are greeted with the gruff, direct, and hilarious Dr. Rich. He explains what Man Therapy is about and encourages men to take the twenty-point head inspection, an assessment that helps them examine and take charge of their mental health.

Our team set three early goals for Man Therapy: 1. Break through the stigma surrounding mental health by making therapy approachable; 2. Encourage help-seeking behavior; and 3. Reduce suicidal ideation. Through research, men told us to just give them the information they needed to fix themselves, so we built a website that provides a broad range of information, resources, and tools to do just that.

“On July 9, 2012, Man Therapy was launched and we were fortunate to land a feature article in the New York Times calling the campaign a groundbreaking approach to suicide prevention. Since then, Man Therapy has had visits from more than two million men, spending an average of five minutes per visit, with 500,000 head inspections completed. Dr. Rich Mahogany is the hardest working therapist in the world and is there for men 24/7/365. Over the past ten years, we have received hundreds of emails from men and their loved ones sharing stories about how Man Therapy has helped them. A CDC-sponsored clinical research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign was recently published and found that Man Therapy improves help-seeking behavior and reduces suicidal ideation in men.”

“While we’re proud of the impact we have had to date, we believe we’re just getting started. Today, Man Therapy is the world’s leading men’s mental health brand and we believe it can be a powerful force for good in the world. Much more than helping reduce suicide, we hope to help men flourish.”

The Moonshot for Mankind

            At this stage of my career, spanning more than fifty years, I want to use the time I still have to make the most positive impact in the world. In November, 2021, I invited a number of colleagues who I knew were doing exceptionally good work in the broad area of men’s mental, emotional, and relational health to join me. I proposed we share our resources more widely and create an organization that could truly make a difference in helping men and their families.

            Based on our experience we believe there may be 1,000 organizations who are doing positive work in the world. We want to share what we’ve been doing and invite them to join us for a Moonshot for Mankind. We plan to launch in July, beginning with a series of online programs on July 25, 26, 27, and 28, 2023. If you would like more information, drop me a note to Jed@Menalive.com and put “July Moonshot” in the subject line and I will send you more details.

            If you’d like to learn more about Joe’s work, visit him at Grit Digital Health.

            If you’d like to read more articles like these, I invite you to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter here.

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