Throughout October we’re running a series of interviews with artists involved in the festival. Here, playwright Mariem Omari talks about One Mississippi, a powerful show about male mental health and childhood experiences which premieres at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on World Mental Health Day, 10 October, and later moves to the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

What was the starting point for One Mississippi?

It was a combination of two things – my own personal experience with men who had depression, and the phenomenal statistics around male suicide in the UK. It’s hard to fathom that with the number of support services now available, the statistics keep increasing…So I wanted to better understand what took men to breaking point. This led me to focus on the impact of childhood trauma. Breakdowns and suicide attempts don’t happen in a vacuum.

The play is based on the real experiences of men across Scotland – how did you find these men and how did you persuade them to share such difficult experiences?

I approached a few men I knew well, who had suffered from depression and had other mental health challenges. They took no convincing. All of them wanted to talk about their experiences, and they wanted their friends to talk to me too. As challenging as it was for them to be interviewed, they all felt it was important to get their stories out…’because it might just help someone…’

What surprised you most about these men’s stories?

I think, instead of surprised I would say difficult…the most difficult thing about the stories was, as I mentioned, some of the men I interviewed I knew well, and they had never uttered a word about the trauma they had experienced growing up, to me, or anyone else. All of them were so deeply affected by these terrible childhood experiences, but they just buried them.

Why do men find it so difficult to talk about mental health?

I think we all find it difficult to talk about mental health because you can’t see it. We live in a world where people like evidence that something is going wrong or hurting. It’s not like a broken leg or an open wound that people can openly see and deal with. Then add to that the way boys are socialised…man up, don’t cry, be strong. As a community we are only now realising the damage we have done in the way we resist male vulnerability and the negative impact that this is having.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about the play’s title?

The title comes from one of the characters’ lines. I think most of us in Scotland know that it’s a way of counting…so one Mississippi, two Mississippi and so on…

Are there other things at SMHAF you’re interested in seeing? Men’s mental health, in particular, seems to be a theme across the festival this year.

I definitely want to see Living With The Lights On. I think Mark Lockyer will be compelling in his solo show, because it’s so personal to him. Also it will come at the same issues I cover in One Mississippi, just in a different way.

What else are you working on at the moment?

A new play on the relationship between faith, belief and mental health. Both mental health and religious beliefs can be seen as ‘taboo’ subjects in today’s society (as you know), so I am writing a play that encourages people to talk about these issues and exposes practices that can severely impact on mental health recovery. But I don’t want to demonise any one faith or tradition; rather I want to explore the good and bad in both. The positives and the negatives of faith, and how it can keep us going during the darkest times, and also keep us ‘sick’ by labelling us as something we are not.


Book tickets for One Mississippi, showing at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (10-12 Oct) and Tron Theatre, Glasgow (13-14 Oct).