Writer, Photographer – and Mental Health Advocate

Mike Maloni is a published novelist. He runs a growing photography business. He also faces challenges with his mental health. He’s eager to share his experience with others so they realize that asking for help is more than OK—it’s a sign of strength. 

“I was diagnosed with mental illness in 1994, after I had graduated from Boston University,” Mike explained. “I have an endocrine condition, adrenal hyperplasia, and that throws off my brain chemistry, affecting my manic depression, schizophrenia, and narcissistic tendencies. At the beginning, it was really rough. I had trouble talking to people and trouble understanding how society works. I thought who’s going to want a friend with mental illness, but I realized that’s not true at all. As my meds got better and I learned the importance of taking them correctly, I was able to do more things and felt more included so I have a lot of friends and social contacts.”

One thing Mike said he learned was the importance of having something in common with others. “Because I was taking my meds and had my mental illness under control, I was able to write my novels and work on photography. That meant I was able to work at something I was good at, just like anyone else. I felt more included with my friends because they worked and so did I. So, I felt like I belonged and that really helped. It still does.”

While Mike is not an MHA client, he got to know about MHA through his friend Giovanni Cirillo, better known to the Hampden/Wilbraham community as “Gio,” General Manager of Gio’s Pizzeria in Hampden. “Gio and I go way back,” Mike explained. “When I was first starting to write, he used to let me work at a table in his restaurant. He has experience within his own family with mental illness and decided it was good to help someone like me with mental disabilities by letting me write where I could be comfortable and get work done. Last winter I saw the effort behind Gio’s fundraising when he donated money to MHA from selling his chicken wings during the football playoffs. His wings are the real deal, by the way. I thought it was great that he wanted to help the Mental Health Association so I went to MHA’s website and learned about their programs for housing and substance use recovery. I don’t have those problems, but it’s good to know people who do can go to MHA for help with that.” 

Mike encourages members of the community to start talking about mental health. “I tell people that the stigma surrounding mental illness is what you make of it,” he said. “You need to be open and honest. I have an appointment with my therapist this week and I’m looking forward to it. If you’re independent like I was as a kid then you like doing things for yourself. I get that, but I also get that it’s OK to depend on other people, like your doctor or your therapist. It’s OK to ask questions if you have something in your mind that you’re afraid of or don’t understand. If you don’t ask questions, you may find yourself making mistakes because you don’t have the right information. So be strong and accept the help.”

Mike also points out the importance of support from people who care about you. “My parents are pretty great people,” he said. “They understand that mental illness is a weird disease. It doesn’t say, ‘Hi, this is mental illness, I’ll be there Friday at 3:30,’ it just shows up, messes with your head and moves on. My parents are supportive and I have a stable home life with them, which really helps because it lets me just be who I am. You really do have to be who you are. When I meet someone, I introduce myself as Mike from Wilbraham, not Mike with mental illness. I share the things I can take pride in, like my novels and my photography.”

Mike emphasized how much he admires Gio for all the ways he helps others. “He’s a good guy who does what he can for the community with what he has,” Mike explained. “He sponsors little league teams and high school sports teams, and he donated a lot of money to MHA with the chicken wings promotion. I thought it would be a good idea to tell people about that, and now I did.”

Mike Maloni’s novels include Defenseman: A Hockey Player’s Story, Shortstop: Where Grace and Power Collide, and Penn State Blue and are available through his websites  www.mikemaloni.zenfolio.com and www.sbpra.com/MichaelJMaloni/