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Local Playwright Tackles Intersection of Race, Mental Health

Suicide is four times higher among African-American men than African-American women, according to federal statistics. (thaddeus coates/courtesy of Marshall Gillson)
Suicide is four times higher among African-American men than African-American women, according to federal statistics. (thaddeus coates/courtesy of Marshall Gillson)
July 5, 2019

SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Mental health and the stigma surrounding it are the topics of a new play that's getting a first read this Sunday in Somerville, with a public forum to follow.

The play, "Alone Together," is by local poet, playwright and mental health advocate Marshall Gillson, and was developed with a grant from the Somerville Arts Council.

The play highlights one couple's struggles for emotional wellness, and their particular challenges with it as African Americans.

Gillson says the idea for the play was born out of his own experience.

"I had juvenile depression,” he relates. “I was suicidal very, very young. I was really emotional and didn't understand it, and didn't have a way to express it, and a way to evaluate it and a way to, like, deal with its significance in my life. So, I started writing as, like, a venue for that."

The play tells the story of a black couple trapped during a snowstorm, who must navigate the space with each other – and their mental health issues.

Local actors Mindy Britto and Christian Thomas will be doing the reading, with a discussion to follow by psychologist Charmain Jackman.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people struggles with mental illness at some point in his or her life. For black Americans dealing with the stress of systemic racism, the numbers can be even higher.

Gillson says he wanted to create the space for discussion around these issues, which are so often hidden or minimized, even among family and friends.

"There's a lot of stigma around mental health, because black people feel like we're supposed to be strong and we're supposed to be overcoming constantly,” he states. “It's dismissed as, like, 'Well, that's fine, you can feel however you want, but we don't have the resources to deal with that.' Or, 'You don't have the space to deal with that, you need to be thinking about surviving.' And, like, that's part of surviving."

The event is free and open to the public. It's this Sunday, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at Arts at the Armory in Somerville.

Jenn Stanley, Public News Service - MA