The Big Anxiety

Things to do, Fairs and festivals
Uti Kulintjaku Initiative
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out says

This six-week-long mental health festival combines science and creativity to help us look after ourselves and others

After its inaugural event in 2017, the Big Anxiety is returning to bring to light the many facets of mental health in modern society. It’s being organised by UNSW in collaboration with the Black Dog Institute and other mental health awareness organisations and practitioners to bring a series of conferences, workshops, exhibitions, performances and interactive experiences to Sydney. These will investigate empathy, stigma, care, healing and suicide prevention.

This year's program focuses on cultivating empathy instead of stigma, fear and discrimination. 

The huge program includes more than 75 events across 32 Sydney venues from September 27-November 9. Here are a few of the highlights:

Uti Kulintjaku means ‘to think and understand clearly’ in Pitjantjatjara, the language of the Anangu people (Indigenous groups of the Western Desert Cultural Bloc). The project of this name by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council incorporates a virtual reality experience and the work of Ngangkari traditional healers and senior APY lands artists to better understand Indigenous mental health and strengthen wellbeing.

The Empathy Clinic is a training ground for understanding the perspectives of others using virtual reality and installations in a series of rooms developed by Australian artists. The program brings together Australian and international artists represent their own and others' anxiety, mental health challenges and stigma. The Empathy Clinic includes new, immersive artworks that present first-person perspectives on empathy and mental health.

The Edge of the Present, which is another kind of interactive environment, has been developed in workshops with young people who have experienced suicidal behaviour. It allows visitors to alter their environment through their decisions to encourage the individual’s ability to control their own future. It aims to use technology to help participants engage with the current moment with openness and confidence.

In The S-Word: Awkward Conversations with Lifeline, volunteers from mental health crisis line Lifeline will engage in informal chats on Mental Health Day, October 10. Ever wanted to know something about Lifeline, suicide prevention or mental distress? This is your chance to ask in a relaxed environment. 

For those musically inclined, Daughters is a 12-part song cycle on the tragic effects of gender-based violence, said to affect one in three women in their lifetime. The songs are composed by David Chisholm and draw on women's real-life experience. It is part of a world-first intercultural Australian and Indian opera project, called the Daughters Opera Project, which will premiere in New Delhi in January 2020.

The Art Gallery of NSW is getting into the Big Anxiety Festival with Art After Hours, a series of mostly free events at the gallery running from 5pm on October 16. The evening begins with the Uti Kulintjaku Initiative in the Entrance Court. Traditional healers and artists from NPY Women's Council will offer a guided meditation in language, followed by a performance presentation. The evening finishes with Black Rhymes at 7.30pm. This is Sydney’s premiere event for Indigenous writers to give their perspective on mental health and healing.  The event is hosted by Big Anxiety ambassador and poet Evelyn Araluen, with poets Lorna Munro, Alison Whittaker, Elizabeth Jarrett and Luke Patterson participating. 

Another event to look out for is These Walls Could Talk, which is a collaboration between artist Cameron Cripps-Kennedy, poet Omar Sakr and students of Bradfield College. The site-specific installation builds on Cripps-Kennedy's words about micro-aggressions and stigma.

Acclaimed British novelist and former mental health nurse Nathan Filer is also coming to the festival to talk about mental health in his books and in real life. Filer explores what happens when people are diagnosed with so-called disorders, and he thinks it's time to rethink mental health labels and anti-stigma campaigns. Filer's debut novel, The Shock of the Fall, is the story of a young man negotiating grief and mental illness. He has written a non-fiction follow-up, The Heartland, about the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia. After the talk, Following the talk, Filer will talk with a panel of experts about causes, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Also not to be missed is the three-day international conference on anxiety, loss of hope and an inability to envisage a positive future. It will be held across UNSW Art & Design, Art Gallery NSW and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and keynote speakers include author Renata Salecl from Slovenia, and the UK’s Lynn Froggett, who specialises in the connections between health and the arts.

Many of these events will be free, but you may need to purchase tickets for others.

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