It’s no secret that the world is facing a mental health crisis, and despite their best efforts to conceal their struggles, men are on the front lines of the issue.
With approximately six million men suffering from depression every year in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ranks suicide as one of the leading causes of death among them.
Approximately three out of four suicide victims in the U.S. are men, with a man killing himself on average every 20 minutes.
And as time goes on, the crisis only seems to worsen, with suicide rates increasing approximately 36% between 2000 and 2021, according to the CDC.
Determined to reduce these numbers, Denver-based creative and production agency Cactus began embarking on a mission to improve the physical and mental well-being of men back in 2010.
The effort began with a series of campaigns built on a strategy CEO and founder Joe Conrad coined “belief and behavior design,” which uses learnings from various campaigns to develop creative and messaging that helps get people to change their behaviors, adopt healthier behaviors or stop harmful behaviors.
In 2012, the agency launched a campaign called Man Therapy, rooted in the concept of “therapy the way a man does it.” It leveraged humor to break the stigma around men going to therapy by suggesting that taking care of your mental health is the manliest thing one can do.
Following the launch, the campaign drew inquiries in other countries from clients looking to adapt it for their markets, said Conrad. In 2014, it expanded to Australia, and continues to run today in more than 15 U.S. states on paid and earned media, as well as grassroots marketing.
Colorado has run the campaign the longest, and with the most consistent paid media dollars put towards TV, radio, outdoor and social. Most recent statistics of male suicides in Colorado show a 6.5% decrease, compared to a 2% increase nationally.
Moonshot for mankind
It was because of the Man Therapy campaign that in 2021, Conrad received a call from Dr. Jed Diamond, a counselor and author who has dedicated more than 50 years to supporting men’s mental health, with an ask: to help him launch another awareness campaign about men’s health struggles.
The objective was simple: communicate to the public that when men don’t address their mental health concerns, they negatively impact their families and communities. The goal was to encourage families, employers and loved ones to support men and encourage them to seek help if they need it–positively impacting not just their own lives, but others’ lives and the world at large.
It was from this brief that Moonshot for Mankind was born. In partnership with Warrior Films, the Good Men Project and Dr. Diamond’s firm MenAlive, Cactus founded the Moonshot for Mankind mission in June 2023 with a campaign detailing the exponential positive impact men can have when they are supported and healthy.
Cactus created a hero video featuring futuristic, NASA-like imagery representative of men’s possibilities when they are healthy and supported. The video features a voice-over detailing the Moonshot for Mankind mission: to build a network and community dedicated to ending stigmas and advancing progress around men’s mental health.
Cactus also tapped its design talent to launch a website communicating information about the mission. People are invited to visit the website and take a pledge, as an individual or an organization, to help the cause. Those who register can network with and learn from other leaders in the field.
“A moonshot only happens if you make a long-term commitment, and you get everybody making it a priority and doing their part by being innovative and going where no one's gone before,” Conrad said. “We wanted the brand to feel like a NASA project because we're talking about a subject that is hard to get your head around. It's so audacious and huge.”
He added that creating awareness around the issue enables people to “start to do something about it.”
“There's strength in numbers,” he said. “We want [organisations] to take the pledge and share their information… to advance their programming as well as help them network and collaborate with others. That is going to create more synergy in the world of men's health.”
Now that Moonshot for Mankind is out in the world, its next goal is to get 1,000 organizations to take the pledge, as well as a million men or their loved ones. So far, 230 individuals have taken the pledge, and 75 organisations have also signed on.
Conrad hopes that soon the campaign will sign on larger influencers, celebrities and athletes to support its mission.
“Marketing is simply the truth made interesting and communicated to all of those interested people out there that might care. So it's about finding them, opening channels up and using networks and grassroots as well as organisations to spread the word,” said Conrad.
If you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.