Men Behaving Sadly

The website of Aaron Rochlen, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, is chock fulla man-related-program-activities. Rochlen writes about men, about why they don’t seek mental health treatment as much as they should, and what all of that has to do with traditional male gender role stereotypes. In his article “Marketing Mental Health to Men: Theoretical and Practical Considerations,” he writes:

Successfully marketing mental health services to men presents a considerable challenge to mental health agencies, community programs, and individual practitioners. Considering that entering therapy has frequently been described as being in direct conflict with the culture of masculinity (Brooks, 2001; Mahalik, Good, & Englar-Carlson, 2003), developing strategies to promote mental health to a broad range of men is fraught with readily apparent obstacles. Fortunately, the development of new and creative initiatives? does indicate progress.

The “new and creative initiatives” to which he’s referring come from the NFL and the National Institute of Mental Health. The NFL gives us, as the slogan for its "Tackling Mental Health" initiative, “It’s what’s under the helmet that counts.” NIMH went with the equally subtle: “It takes courage to ask for help. These men did.”

The rest of Rochlen’s article explores the different theoretical approaches to how to effectively market mental health services to a demographic (men) which thinks therapy is for sissies. The main strategy, thus far, has been the obvious one: Appropriate the language and imagery of hyper-masculinity to sell an action—seeking help—that men avoid for fear of seeming weak.

Men like them some football, for instance, so if you can associate depression with, say, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, the manliest man to stalk the sidelines since Vince Lombardi was layin’ his thang down in Green Bay, then maybe you could make it possible for men in need to get help indeed.

Similary, if you can make the case that it takes courage to ask for help (which it does), then maybe men will find a way to re-conceptualize "courage," a quality they admire, so that it directs them toward, rather than away from, the help they so desperately need.

It makes sense, but it’s also a bit primitive, and it wouldn’t take too much to get more sophisticated than these first-generation efforts. Imagine the possibilities if, say, Scott Norwood and Bill Buckner were willing to offer themselves up as poster children for a campaign to educate the public about men and depression. What a commercial they could cut!

Start with all the Giants on the sideline, in the waning seconds of the SuperBowl XXV, praying for Norwood to miss. Have the NFL films guy do the voiceover. Have that U2 song about placekicking in the background, and then show the whole awful sequence. Then cut to Norwood, now a realtor in Northern Virginia, saying, "Man, was I depressed. Thank God I was able to get some help."

Then flashback to 1986, the bottom of the tenth inning of game six of the World Series, the Red Sox having just given up the last of the two-run lead they’d had on a wild pitch by ace closer Bob Stanley. Vin Scully’s doing the play-by-play, the Mookie Wilson-hit ball dribbles through Buckner’s legs, and Ray Knight is able to get home from second base. The Mets win the game, and then go on to win the series in game seven. Cut to Buckner: "Man, was I depressed. Thank God I was able to get some help."

Cut to the two guys, at home with their families, looking like they’re living happy lives, and have them talk a bit about how hard it was to get over the shame, guilt, anger, etc. of their famous failures, and then have them say something like, "If guys like us, who failedmore spectacularlythan anyone else in sports history, can re-build our lives with the help of our families, the mental health industry, and a regulated course of psychopharmeceuticals, then maybe you, with yourpissant problems, can suck it up, ask for help.and gethealthy too. Whatever you screwed up, it can’t be worse than having your name become synonymous with failure in the minds of tens of millions of frustrated sports fans. We can’t even walk into a sports bar with someone shouting ‘wide right! or trying to roll a billiard ball through our legs."

I’dbe persuaded by thatcommercial, and I don’t even suffer from depression (well, I do, I think, sometimes, but I’m too much of a man to seek help for it).

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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