FALL RIVER: Jim Malone has a passion for something most people shy away from talking about—mental health.

Malone, a Fall River native, was involved in the community he calls home until even after being diagnosed in 1989. He managed that depression for 17 years through the use of medication, before things started falling apart. In 2007, a call from an HR representative at his employer was the last straw.

In the 10-years since then he has become a voice of sorts for those suffering from mental health issues and advocating to end the stigma that exists around mental health. He has started support group in Halifax to help others talk and deal with their depression and anxiety.

“For hundreds of years, we’ve been taught to sweep mental illnesses under the rug,” said Malone, sitting inside one of the quiet board rooms at the Gerald Mitchel Realty building. “It’s only been the last few years that we’ve given ourselves permission to talk about it and that it’s okay to get help and not be ashamed about it.

“That’s key to getting over the stigma.”

He said because people have been told to not recognize mental illness all these years, most people don’t understand it.

“The old saying “kick yourself in the arse and get going again” doesn’t apply in this situation,” he said. “That applies for a blue day or two, but not for someone with diagnosed depression.

“Those comments are well meaning, but they actually show that person doesn’t understand that level. It’s understandable that they don’t because we haven’t taught them. None of us really know about this.”

Malone is happy to see mental health being talked a bit in schools not, noting there’s a long ways to go.

“It’s a start so when generations now grow up they’re going to have much more information,” he said. “The hope is it’ll be just like having a broken arm or diabetes. Even though it’s invisible, the hope is talking about mental health will be accepted.”

He was asked what society can do to #EndtheStigma around mental health. He pointed to what Bell Aliant and #BellLetsTalk is doing.

“To get it out there and convince people that it is okay to talk about, that it is okay to get help, without the fear of being ridicule, shunned by family, friends, by co-workers, and even the employer,” said Malone. “That’s the biggest fear why people don’t talk.

“I can tell you, since 2007, I have been open about my own depression. We have to start talking about it. It’s so important to hear from others that they have it too.”

Jim Malone is advocating for people to give themselves permission to talk about their mental health. (Healey photo)

Malone said having Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes come forward and admit to suffering from a mental illness has helped bring more awareness to a disease many suffer from, and bring the help. Hughes is the face of #BellLetsTalk Day, which is held every January and raises money for mental health program. This year, Bell Let’s Talk Day is Wednesday Jan. 25.

“They never would have come forward before, but now it’s acceptable to do that,” he said. “With Clara coming forward, now people can relate. They can say she was successful and she had that, maybe it’s okay to get some help too.

He said mental health needed a star player to step up and talk about mental health, and Hughes is that person.

“It’s a good example of how you can use a star athlete in a positive way,” said Malone.

Malone said the government needs to put more money into mental health initiatives and programs, although the impact of that money won’t be realized overnight.

“It won’t be effective right away because we have to train a whole generation of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counsellors,” he said. “That could be years away even if those dollars came today.”

He said the biggest thing that needs to be done is getting people to talk and understand that it’s okay to do so.

“As much as you may not believe it right now and live it, it is okay to ask for help,” he said. “And the sooner the better. The sooner people go to your physician and have a talk. They have enough information they can plan for some assistance.

“It’s okay to be you, whatever that is. It’s critical for people to believe in themselves. Talking is the only way we’ll start to end the stigma around mental health.”

Malone has been involved since the start of #BellLetsTalk Day. Malone encourages anyone who can talk, text and join in on social media using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on January 25.