The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm

From 21 September to 15 October, The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm will deliver an engaging program of events, including exhibitions, poetry, storytelling, augmented reality, performances, workshops, conversations, and dialogues that bring focus to the lived experience of mental health.

The program will be delivered online and at venues across Melbourne and the Yarra Ranges, including RMIT Design Hub, RMIT Gallery, State Library of Victoria, ACMI, Federation Square, Yarra Ranges Regional Museum and Arts Centre Warburton, to name a few.

Archives of Feeling, Jude Worters, Malajusted (Hiding). Phototgraph: Gary Moore. Courtesy The Big Anxiety

Established by UNSW Sydney in 2016, The Big Anxiety is a progressive platform with a vision to reposition mental health as a collective community-based cultural responsibility rather than one that exists wholly within the realms of medical and clinical treatment models. It is a creative space where the daily struggles of living with mental health conditions can be heard and understood, and the stigma can be put to rest.

Through creativity and insightful conversations delivered by national and international contributors, including artists, researchers, scientists, health and community service workers, and individuals with lived experience, The Big Anxiety invites audiences to join them on a guided mission to bring awareness and understanding to the complexities of the broad range of mental health issues affecting millions of Australians today.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2020-21 National Study on Health and Wellbeing reported that: “of the 19.6 million Australians aged 16-85 years: over two in five (43.7% or 8.6 million people) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life; one in five (21.4% or 4.2 million people) had a 12-month mental disorder; anxiety was the most common group of 12-month mental disorders (16.8% or 3.3 million people), and almost two in five people (39.6%) aged 16-24 years had a 12-month mental disorder.”

Not only does this data reveal the magnitude of the mental health crisis in Australia, but it also tells us that we as individuals are not alone. So, how can we tackle the big issues of mental health for a better and more inclusive future?

“The arts are the best means we have for sharing complex experiences. It is a pathway that can show us what we may not know about ourselves and others, and it also shines a light on relationships and social settings that help or hinder mental health. We have seen evidence that the arts can make real and meaningful transformations and change,” says Jill Bennett, Scientia Professor and The Big Anxiety Melbourne Naarm co-director with Professor Renata Kokanović, RMIT University.

Atatjura Kulinma: Think Mindfully, Rene Kulitja using Uti Kulintjaku meditation app. Photograph: Rhett Hammerton. Courtesy of NPY Women’s Council Aboriginal Corporation, Northern Territory

A key component of the festival is The Big Anxiety Forum: Learning from Lived Experience. Held over two full days from 6 to 7 October the forum plans to engage audiences in conversations, performances and workshops exploring creative approaches to the challenges of living with all manner of mental health issues, trauma, suicidality, mental distress, care and recovery.

Forum highlights include the launch of the The Big Anxiety: Taking Care of Mental Health in Time of Crisis publication; The Long Table, a sit around hosted and led by people with lived experience will offer an open conversation space for sharing experiences and listening; a Vocal Embodiment workshop with Alice Hui-Sheng Chang that will evoke connection to the inner self; there will be time to decompress and release tension through emotion and movement across Two Alternative Decompression Activities with Tamara Borovica; and plenty more. Tickets range from $30 to $75. Download the Forum Program.

RMIT University’s gallery spaces will exhibit Archives of Feeling, an exhibition of group and individual works that express and communicate different dimensions of trauma experiences and recovery and includes the first ever meditations in Aboriginal language where audiences will be invited to use the Uti Kulintjaku meditation app as part of the Atatjura Kulinma, Think Mindfully project. The Children’s Sensorium will provide an interactive space designed to give kids the freedom to explore their senses, feelings, thoughts, worries and hopes through light, colour, touch, sound, smell and taste, inspired by Kulin Country.

The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm – Children’s Sensorium. Photograph: Xueying Fu. Courtesy The Big Anxiety

The Speaker Series brings together a line-up of creative thinkers and international guest speakers exploring some of the most troubling anxieties of our times across talks and performances; The Wheeler Centre will host Writing the Future of Health; and the Capitol, RMIT will present Leslie Jamison: Examining Empathy, Brainstorms Creativity and Mental Health, and Poetic Solidarities: Claudia Rankine and Evelyn Araluen.

At Federation Square’s Atrium a large-scale animation titled Unnerved by New York-based multimedia artist Anita Glesta will visualise the artist’s perspectives on the effects of trauma and grief. Arts Centre Warburton in the Yarra Ranges has an Australian world-first virtual-reality experience titled Edge of the Present in house, a collaborative project realised by psychologists, mental health specialists and people with lived experiences of suicide survival, exploring suicide prevention and mood change,

Explore the full program online The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm, 2022