Dr. Anne Hallward interviews Joseph Jackson, director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition and community liaison at Maine Inside Out. Photo courtesy of Safe Space Radio.

No matter the reason they come in, the heart of their suffering has to do with shame, psychiatrist Anne Hallward says of the patients she sees in her Portland practice.

If someone has depression, they struggle with failure or a feeling of weakness or defectiveness. “I felt like I stumbled on this public health emergency we don’t know much about, which is shame,” Hallward said. “The feeling of shame and aloneness is almost universal.”

She began Safe Space Radio in 2008 as a weekly interview show on the Portland community radio station WMPG to address and reduce shame, silence and stigma. As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the public radio station WBUR in Boston is distributing a new four-part miniseries from Safe Space called “Can We Talk?” that uses the stories of Portlanders, Mainers and others to explore the things that are hard to talk about and ways to make those conversations easier.

Maine Public will air episodes at 2 p.m. Thursdays in May, starting this week. Public radio stations in New Orleans, San Diego and Houston also will air “Can We Talk?” and it’s available through the Safe Space website.

The idea behind the show is to encourage people to face difficult conversations with courage, Hallward said. Things left unsaid hurt relationships, and learning how to talk about difficult topics is important in individual relationships and as communities. Each show explores a specific theme: “Apologies,” “Asking for Help,” “Loneliness,” and “Talking to White Kids About Race and Racism.”

The shows combine stories with advice so listeners can “start their own courageous conversations,” Hallward said.

Hallward is a former faculty member at Harvard Medial School and, in 2016, received a Gracie Award, presented by the Alliance for Women in Media, for her work as host of the WMPG show. Hallward hosts the new show, which is produced by her Portland-based creative team: senior producer Brit Hanson, program director Dana Glass and education coordinator Sara Powers.

Safe Space Radio has produced more 300 episodes of its original show, as well as two specials, “Out-Takes” about suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth and “Still Here” about caregiving and dementia, which were broadcast nationally. While the WMPG show relies on an interview format, “Can We Talk?” takes a narrative storytelling approach.

“Stories are a powerful way to foster greater empathy and hope and reducing shame,” Hallward said. “I think our brains are wired for stories. We put ourselves in the position of the main character. It invites empathy in the very structure of the story, and we start looking at the world through the eyes of the narrator. It can be very powerful.”

Voices of Mainers are heard across the series. Portland resident Alice Barakagwira talks about the shame associated with being denied legal help after arriving in Maine in 2009 from Burundi in “Asking for Help.” Portland resident John Kennedy discusses his journey to becoming a peer counselor in a psychiatric emergency room in “Loneliness.” The series also includes stories about the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Maine Inside Out and Shay Stewart-Bouley, author of “Black Girl in Maine.”

Charles Beck, vice president of radio and television content for Maine Public, said “Can We Talk?” will air in the slot reserved for specials and public affairs programming, including “Speaking in Maine” and national programs.

“Anne has done a lot of work to get to this point where she and her team can bring them to the public radio audience, not just here in Maine but also around the country,” he wrote in an email. “We’re looking forward to sharing them with the Maine Public Radio audience.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.