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Ending stigma with stereotype

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Man Therapy is a part of an effort to address the demographic most acutely affected by suicide: men between the ages of 25 and 65. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN HEALTH

Man Therapy campaign aims to save lives, treat behavioral health issues

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Behind a video clip of a mustachioed gentleman chuckling at a chainsaw operator’s manual, a headline on mantherapy.org reads, “According to science, bad things can happen to men too.” He’s using a leaf blower to clear his desk and lifting a bowling ball like a barbell. 

The content is a part of a national marketing campaign called Man Therapy and while the humor is intentional, the aim is to solve a sobering epidemic.

In the U.S., men account for 78 percent of all suicides. Most of these deaths occur in men aged 25 to 65, a demographic commonly referred to as “working-aged men.”

To increase awareness about mental health and establish a more targeted approach to saving lives, Cactus, a Denver, Colorado-based advertising agency, in partnership with the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, came up with Man Therapy in 2007. It has since been adopted by partners nationwide. One such partner, the Elevating Behavioral Health Consortium, includes regional institutions like Bozeman Health, Greater Gallatin United Way, the Help Center, Gallatin County and Park County.

“We live in the Intermountain West where rugged individualism is touted as a strength, which means you don’t often ask for help.”

Ellie Martin, a licensed clinical social worker with Routefinder Consulting and Greater Gallatin United Way

According to a 2019 report in the National Vital Statistics Report, Montana has the third highest rate of suicide in the nation. This is due a multitude of factors, discusses Martin, including high altitude; dark, long and cold winters; its high population of veterans and American Indians; and Montana’s “tough” culture that perpetuates a stigma against getting help. The rural nature of the state doesn’t help—even if a man gets to the point of asking for help, oftentimes it isn’t available.

“We live in the Intermountain West where rugged individualism is touted as a strength, which means you don’t often ask for help,” said Ellie Martin, a licensed clinical social worker with Routefinder Consulting and Greater Gallatin United Way. “We’re a frontier environment for behavioral health access.”

Although women attempt suicide three times more often than men, men are four times more likely to succeed, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Access to lethal means also plays a big role. Martin says 65 percent of men in Montana die by suicide by way of firearm. She added that most have had undiagnosed or untreated behavioral health issues as well as drug abuse issues in the past.

Professional policies and related stigma, like limited paternity leave at jobs, perpetuate the idea that men don’t experience the same emotional capacity as women.

“One goal was to think about how we can be strategic to decrease stigma,” said Christopher Coburn, Bozeman Health’s system manager of community benefit and partnerships. “We wanted it to be the most impactful. We looked at those people who were dying by suicide by the highest rates, and it was the working aged men, so we thought this was a really good fit to reach that goal.”

Man Therapy offers resources, such as therapist referrals and free coping techniques, for men suffering from behavioral health or substance abuse episodes using humor as a way to normalize and dispel the stigma. A mustache infographic explains, “1 in 10 men suffer from rage,” while another quips, “sometimes a man needs a pork shoulder to cry on.” These tactics aren’t just humorous—they’ve produced results. Website analytics gathered in the first five years of the program revealed that 79 percent of the site’s visitors were male, 79 percent were between the ages of 25 and 64 and 10 percent were military.

Although the stressors of the pandemic have increased the need for mental health services—the Help Center in Bozeman reported seeing a 50 percent increase in calls since March of 2020–Martin says a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has normalized getting help. Even though sometimes you can do everything to take care of yourself, she explains, it’s alright that sometimes it isn’t enough.

“Be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to have feeling other than good, great or amazing. There’s perfection in the full range of feelings that you have.”

Christopher Coburn, Bozeman Health’s system manager of community benefit and partnerships

Man Therapy also offers resources such as communication tips and hotlines to call, to those who think a loved one might be struggling. Both Martin and Coburn say that signs to keep an eye out for in others are changes in mood, a deeper sense of hopelessness and signs of withdrawal. As a friend or family member, the best thing you can do is to voice those observations and concerns aloud.

“One thing that I’ve been doing recently, if someone is asking, ‘hey how are you doing today?’ Don’t just say ‘fine.’ Tell them,” said Coburn. “Be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to have feeling other than good, great or amazing. There’s perfection in the full range of feelings that you have.”

Depression is treatable, suicide is preventable. Whether you yourself are struggling, or you are worried about a loved one, there is always help available. Here are some resources to start.

Man Therapy

“Because life throws you curveballs, sometimes right at your manhood.”

https://mantherapy.org/about

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

The state of Montana has a crisis hotline available 24/7 via voice call or text.

https://dphhs.mt.gov/suicideprevention/suicideresources

Know the Signs

How to reach out, and what to say if you feel a loved one is struggling.

https://www.suicideispreventable.org


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