House is a play about a reunion in a British Nigerian family. Two sisters and their mother gather to mark a birthday – but it quickly becomes apparent that problems from the past, including mental health issues, mean any celebrations are premature. 

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. But in Britain, the day-to-day experience of what that means is very dependent on who you are. People from black and ethnic minority groups are more likely to have a mental health problem diagnosed – and are also more likely to have a poor outcome from treatment.

In House, one daughter has had a mental health issue that is now being treated successfully. She is getting her life back on track and feeling positive. In real life, her story would be an all-too-rare success. 

Those from black communities tend to experience the mental health services via the courts or the police, rather than via their doctor. Some minority groups – notably young black men – are much more likely than the wider population to be subject to sectioning under the Mental Health Act, to be held in seclusion on mental health units, and to be physically restrained – often because of misguided ideas of a propensity for violence. 

As the play unfolds, it’s revealed that the mental health issue is behind an estrangement between daughter and mother – whose church upbringing taught her that shameful evil spirits were to blame. 

Research among African-descended church workers in the UK found support for the view that mental illness could relate to a curse. A lack of faith, or a moral weakness might also be blamed – leading to stigma, silence, and isolation from treatment that could help. 

Yet in a positive finding, the leaders of these churches, to whom their members so often turned, knew they needed to be better equipped to recognise issues and direct people effectively to mental health services. (RM)

House and Amongst the Reeds ran at Assembly George Square Theatre until August 27th - 

Trends in mental health:

Figures for black and ethnic minority mental health:

Double discrimination against people of ethnic minorities:

How stigma stops people seeking help for mental illness in African-descended faith communities: