Step into the office of Dr. Rich Mahogany, a sturdy middle-aged fellow in a rugby shirt with a mustache and a bit of a comb-over.

Have a seat on the leather couch and don’t be distracted by the dartboard or stuffed moose head. This is a place, the doctor tells you, where you can deal with the tough situations that life sends your way, like layoffs, breakups and “your pain-in-the-ass teenager.”

This is “Man Therapy,” and “We won’t be complaining, whining and moping about,” Dr. Rich growls. “No. We’ll be getting off our keisters, and form-tackling feelings like stress, anger, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts, head on, but using the manly techniques found in my office.”

Dr. Rich is an actor. This is satire for sure, but it’s not “Saturday Night Live.” Man Therapy is an interactive website created by public health officials in Colorado that’s designed to get help to people who have been trained not to ask for it.

And that group is men.

You see it in the suicide rate. Men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women, and the rate is the highest among working-age men, ages 25 to 54, who kill themselves at a rate that’s twice that of the population as a whole.

Combine that with slow self-destruction of alcohol and drug abuse that’s more common among men, and the outward-directed violence that’s almost exclusively a male phenomenon, and it’s clear that there are a lot of people suffering from problems that aren’t being dealt with.

“Men’s unwillingness to acknowledge mental health problems or suicidal thoughts coupled with the common behavior of not accessing available services contribute to the high suicide rate among men,” write Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, Jarrod Hindman and Joe Conrad in the very unfunny white paper behind “Man Therapy.”

“Cultural codes of achievement, aggression, competitiveness and emotional isolation are consistent with the masculine stereotype; depressive symptoms are not. Cultural ideas of rugged individualism lead to social fragmentation and fewer coping alternatives.”

It’s not surprising that Maine, with a culture that exalts self sufficiency and despises complaining, is seeing the effects. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, involving the groups you would expect, led by working-age men.

Easy access to guns appears to be part of the problem, but mental health experts warn that well-intentioned efforts to disarm people in crisis may prove to be counterproductive if they discourage men from seeking help. Ultimately, getting help is what will make a difference.

The Man Therapy website starts with an interactive quiz called “Head Inspection” that asks about eating and sleeping, mood and worry levels. It produces a “report” that offers a few jokes, some general insight and recommends places to go for more information.

The screening will surprise some people. We hear less about how some conditions present in men, so the warning signs can be easy to miss.

For instance, women with depression often blame themselves for everything and report feeling sad, apathetic and worthless. Depressed men, on the other hand, are just as likely to feel angry, irritated and ego-inflated. Instead of blaming themselves, they blame others and become suspicious and guarded.

Rather than talking to a friend, men are likely to build barriers with alcohol, TV or sports. And the isolation that produces may be at the heart of the problem.

Researchers at the Unlonely Project say Americans today are lonelier than ever in the past. The changing nature of work and the decline of community-building institutions like labor unions, service clubs and churches, along with the rise of internet use, contribute to feelings of alienation and social disconnection. They cite a 2018 AARP survey that found a full third of American adults feeling lonely, about twice as many who felt that way as recently as the 1980s.

That contributes to not only depression and anxiety, but also conditions like heart disease, chronic pain and fatigue, and research suggests that loneliness can be considered as much a factor in lowering life expectancy as obesity or smoking.

So, it’s no surprise that the segment of our culture that makes a virtue of social isolation – or rugged individualism – is showing some cracks.

“Man Therapy” plays with those cultural ideas, exaggerating them for comic effect, but not fully abandoning them. As Dr. Rich says, men need to know that “it’s OK to cry, even if it’s not about sports.”

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

 


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