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Videos: ManTherapy.org uses wacky humor to help dudes fight depression

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Dr. Rich Mahogany is not a real doctor. The mustachioed star of ManTherapy.org is a fake therapist who loves fly fishing, chainsaws and stuffed moose heads. He cusses, does bicep curls with a bowling ball and, most importantly, dispenses facts and tips about depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide prevention to working-age men -- a difficult but crucial audience to reach. Men ages 25 to 54 account for nearly half of suicide deaths in Colorado.

Dr. Mahogany was invented by Cactus, an ad agency in Denver, in conjunction with the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention and the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, which was founded in 2005 after the 34-year-old namesake, Denver businessman and father Carson Spencer, committed suicide. Thanks to a generous gift from the Anschutz Foundation (they're not revealing how much), those three agencies were able to bring Dr. Mahogany to life. "He's this guy who men can relate to, who's just funny," says Joe Conrad, founder and CEO of Cactus. "He might be a little eccentric himself, but he's also very wise. And he cares. He cares about men."

Here's an example.

Sally Spencer-Thomas, co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, is Carson's sister. A psychologist by training, Spencer-Thomas says that before her brother took his life in December 2004, even she didn't know that working-age men commit suicide at an alarming rate. "In 2005, there was very, very little being done to address that population," she says. The foundation decided to focus its efforts there, but funding was scarce. Most suicide prevention grants are directed at teenagers, not adults.

But the foundation wasn't deterred. Along with the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention and Cactus, it took what little money it had and conducted focus groups and did research on how to reach working-age men. "They said, 'Don't expect us to come to you. Meet us in the places where we hang out. Talk to us how we talk to each other and maybe we'll listen,'" Spencer-Thomas says of the men in the focus groups.

So Dr. Rich Mahogany was born. Part Ron Swanson, the woodworking libertarian boss from Parks and Recreation, and part Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell's scotch-loving news anchor in Anchorman, the fake doctor is played by Denver actor John Arp. "It's great because it's a great message," says Arp, who won Best Actor in a Comedy in Westword's 2012 Best of Denver. "As an actor, you could be the spokesperson for a pharmaceutical company or an insurance company that's dodgy -- you don't always feel good about what you're being a spokesperson for. But this is quite the good message."

In the end, the Anschutz Foundation stepped in to make sure that message is heard. In one long day, the crew shot a series of videos, including the public service announcement above, which may begin airing on local television stations as early as this week. The video is also on YouTube and on ManTherapy.org. The site is narrated by Arp as Dr. Mahogany, and the home page takes you to his manly office where, from a leather chair, he invites you to click around. If you don't, he sits there, looking at you. Sometimes, he blinks. Other times, he takes a fish out of a cooler and guts it.

Once you do click, the site contains therapy suggestions ("No soothing ocean noises. Just real man-to-man conversation"); a section called Gentlemental Health that lists causes, symptoms and treatments for depression, anxiety and substance abuse; and a questionnaire. Sample question: "One of the activities that really gets my blood pumping is whittling. When doing your favorite hobbies and activities, do you enjoy them as much as you used to?" A poor score elicits a rare serious response from Dr. Mahogany: "You may recall earlier when I told you I hated B.S. So I'm going to tell it to you straight: Your results have me worried."

Striking that balance was important to the campaign's creators. "Getting this character locked in perfectly was central to this campaign," Spencer-Thomas says. Arp, she says, "had to play this wacky character, but also act as a bridge when somebody came up high on the assessment.... We are in love with this actor because he did it perfectly."

"There's a bit of a goofy bravado," Arp says. "The way I describe it to my friends, I say that it's done in such a way that you can laugh at the guy a little bit, but he says a lot of really pertinent, truthful things."

In addition to the website and PSA, the campaign will include billboards and bus stop ads, as well as posters and drink coasters designed to reach men in bars. All of them have the same tone. "POOPING," one says in bold letters. "Meditation. The way a man would do it."

Click through for more videos and a peek at the billboards.

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