Using Reality TV to Improve Men's Mental Health

Toronto psychiatrist creates bold, experimental web series Think You Can Shrink? to improve men's mental health and reduce stigma.

TORONTO, May 1, 2017 /CNW/ - A Toronto psychiatrist has developed a unique initiative to help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues among men and encourage them to seek professional help.

Dr. Thomas Ungar, an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and Head of Psychiatry at North York General Hospital, created Think You can Shrink?, a reality TV-style web series that is generating positive results among viewers.

"Mental health issues are widely misunderstood and stigmatized among the general public," Dr. Ungar said. "I wanted to create something that goes beyond traditional health promotion. I hope that by playing with everyday pop culture like a reality show, we can help people become more comfortable with mental illness and get the help they need."

With innovation funding from the Movember Foundation, the world's leading men's health charity, and support from the North York General Hospital Foundation, Dr. Ungar created Think You Can Shrink?, a three-episode web series that focuses on intimate subjects rarely portrayed in popular culture: suicidal depression, testicular lumps, and explaining how to deal with a narcissist.

"Mental health issues are particularly acute among men, who are more likely than women to try to tough it out or struggle alone," Dr. Ungar said, noting that three out of four suicides are men and that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 29.

Employing a method used to train medical students, actors are coached to portray mental health problems.  Contestants with everyday jobs who think they are good at giving advice (a bartender, a hairdresser and a strip club owner) test their skills – both successfully and unsuccessfully.  Judges include a psychiatrist, an emergency room/family doctor and celebrity Rick Campanelli, co-host of ET Canada.

"It was a fine line to walk, trying to not be exploitive of mental health issues, but entertaining so people would watch" Dr. Ungar said.  The web series avoids the shaming factor of reality TV to show that strong male support and communication is possible, de-stigmatizing the act of reaching out for help.

A survey of people who watched the episodes concludes that the reality TV-style was successful in de-stigmatizing mental health issues and encouraging people to seek professional care.  Seventy-five per cent of viewers said they were more likely to seek help if needed, and 86% would be more comfortable supporting a friend or family member who had the same health issue as portrayed in the video, according to the study in the Journal of Technology and Behavioral Science.

About the Movember Foundation:

The Movember Foundation is the only global charity focused solely on men's health. We raise funds that deliver innovative, breakthrough research and support programs to enable men to live happier, healthier, longer lives. Awareness and fundraising activities are run year-round, with the annual Movember Campaign in November being globally recognized for its fun, disruptive approach to fundraising and getting men to take action for their health. Since Movember started in Melbourne, Australia in 2003, millions have joined the movement, raising over $759 Million and funding over 1,200 projects focused on men's mental health & suicide prevention, prostate and testicular cancer. You can help stop men dying too young at movember.com.

SOURCE Dr. Tom Ungar

For further information: Katherine Fibiger, Katherine.fibiger@nygh.com, 416-756-6319

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