6 Oct 2022 — 7 Oct 2022

RMIT Storey Hall & Green Brain

Building 16, 336/348 Swanston Street


9am – 5pm


Costs cover catering and refreshments


Program HERE

An immersive 2-day forum for anyone interested in the complexities of mental and emotional health from lived experience perspectives.

Join us for two full days of creative engagements, in-depth conversations, workshops and performances, reimagining mental health through a creative, experiential lens.

This experience-based event is intended to be stimulating, uplifting, and ultimately enjoyable. It will also be challenging at times — and for some, transformative.

The Forum prioritises being with lived experience rather than academic discussion. It is underpinned by collaborative research (and the book, The Big Anxiety: Taking Care of Mental Health in Time of Crisis, Bloomsbury, 2022) but is primarily a space for experiencing creative approaches to the day-to-day challenges of living with trauma, suicidality and mental distress.

Image: Workshop with Marianne Wobcke at The Big Reach, Brisbane. Photo by Markus Ravik

What people said about the 2-day intensive in Brisbane, May 2022:

It was like doing 10 years of therapy in one morning Di Krome, Suicide Prevention Advocate

I was impressed by the compassion shown by everybody present, allowing people experiencing deep trauma to come forward and tell their stories. I’ve grown a little. Brett Fyfield, volunteer, Twitter

Marianne Wobcke’s workshop was truly remarkable…powerful beyond measure. There was magic in new voices finding the courage to speak their stories for the first time. My cup is full. I feel seen, heard, and grateful. Ally Kelly, suicide prevention activist

Authentic. Genuine. Caring. This is how all Mental Health conferences should be structured! Survey respondent

The best mental health conference I’ve ever been to! Dr Susanne Oliver Armstrong, Suicide Prevention Lived Experience Consultant

What I saw in Brisbane was culture change in motion Presenter feedback via survey


See HERE for a taste of our last Forum in Brisbane in May 2022.


Learning from Lived Experience: Exhibition:

Exhibition curated by Gail Kenning for the Forum space, Storey Hall includes new video works, as well as Virtual Reality experiences previously commissioned by The Big Anxiety.

Video exhibits include to bloom by Daniel Regan, poetry by Achol Juk and Lydia Gitau, In their own word by Gail Kenning and seven people living with dementia and Nos-Otros, made with young people experiencing loneliness and isolation, by Lucia Barrera, one of number of artists discussing the work on site. Anita Glesta’s video UNNERVED, now showing in Fed Square this week (3-7 Oct), will also be included here.


Download the Program HERE for details/timings.

Confirmed Program:

Performance presentations

How DID Alice get out of the Rabbit Hole? by Jenny Hickinbotham – a new multimedia performance in 4 chapters, telling the story of Jenny’s early childhood, where the seed of mental distress was sown and watered; a first psychosis resulting from an assault; and the onset of Jenny’s second psychosis while at high school. Not even Alice can answer the question: How could this world, her family, be so demeaning, punitive, and unkind? In the final chapter, Jenny shares her leap from the blackness of that rabbit hole, the chaotic psychotic thinking, the demeaning disabling family, through her hand-written songs and performance. Jenny Hickinbotham, vocals and song-writing, Dale Gorfinkel on ‘detuned punk guitar’, Mish Szekelyhidi on percussion, James Rushford, organ; Joel Stern home-made synthesizer.

Schizy Inc present Gnarly Writers, wisdom-holders with long lived experience of the public mental health system. Australians over 30 don’t qualify for lucrative preventative funding, but they carry rich insights to the system and healing no one else can speak. The precious words from Gnarly Writers will come in handy to anyone starting out on a mental health lived experience apprenticeship or seeking validation for a lifetime of service.

Thembi Soddell, a sound artist with lived experience of complex trauma, and Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, a vocalist and art therapist, together with workshop participants, present UnKnowing Madness — a concert produced from Creative Sound Workshops exploring complex trauma as felt experience beyond medical language.

Minola Theatre’s Kat Dekker, in collaboration with Ketayoon Bhathena from Arts for Inclusion and Edmund Rice Community Services and community actors with lived experience, utilise Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed technique of Forum theatre to uncover and disrupt the power relations inherent in interactions within mental health systems.

Uti Kulintjaku – formed by Ngangkari (traditional healers) and multi-artform artists of the NPY Women’s Council — is an innovative, Agoriginal-led mental health literacy project that takes its name from a Pitjantjatjara phrase that means ‘to listen, think and understand clearly’. Their performance-presentation explores mental health, trauma and healing from Anangu perspectives.

Mad Poetry – performance and discussions, convened by David Stavanger along with poets featured in the book Admissions, which will be launched at the Forum. MAD Poetry creates a safe writing space for emerging voices with a lived/living experience of mental health issues to explore their experience of illness, institutions, recovery, self-care, and beyond. Join Red Room Poetry‘s David Stavanger (who coordinates this project), co-founder Tim Heffernan, and emerging voices Lesh Karan and Kristen de Kline as they discuss working with poetry in the lived experience space. Co-presented by Red Room Poetry

Listening to Voices present Actually It’s Me, a dynamic performance about navigating trauma and the mental health system by people who’ve redefined experiences of voice hearing and self. Listening to Voices is a Wodonga Gateway Health NGO project, mobilising the voices of those with lived experience, Performers: Kelly Bayley, Ben Pearson, Sarah Sewell, Jain Thompson. Project Manager/performer, Kate Fiske. Musician: Yomal Rajasinghe,  Artistic Director Catherine Simmonds


Roadtrip: perinatal dreaming is an immersive audio-visual experience, focusing on cultural connection as a means to address trauma and the birth/early life experiences that perpetuate it. Developed by Girrimay woman Marianne Wobcke – nurse, midwife and artist of Stolen Generations lineage, and 2021 winner of the Australia Council Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development.

The 90 minute Roadtrip experience will be followed by a discussion on justice, reclamation, and transformation, convened by Ruth De Souza (RMIT) with Marianne, Gina Bundle, a Yuin/Monaro woman and Program Coordinator of Badjurr-Bulok Wilam, and Pitjantjatjara/Wiradjuri woman, Storm Henry.

Musician and writer, Khin Myint’s workshop will focus on forming questions that might drive journaling and honest writing of lived experience. After a childhood rife with bullying and racial tension, Khin struggled with depression and several suicide attempts. He healed by examining toxic masculinity, using songwriting along with meditation. His workshop will look at how we use can vulnerability in storytelling to find belonging with our trauma regardless of creative skill level. For those wishing to share, there will be an open mic event.

UK artist, Daniel Regan‘s LIPS offers a chance to generate a collaborative film with participants contributing short pieces in which their lips are filmed whilst recalling times of loss. This develops a concept used in a moving video, titled to bloom, that Daniel will share for the first time in our exhibition. For that work, Daniel combined video of his mother’s lips as she recalled living through his suicide attempt, juxtaposed with footage of Daniel himself subsequently talking about his mother’s death.

As numbers are limited to 25, you will need to sign up at registration.

‘Falling forever’: Thoughts about the Unthinkability of Trauma (with fortune cookies) is a session of associative thinking about experience and feeling with Irish psychoanalytic therapist, Noreen Giffney and UK psychosocial research Lynn Froggett, who will also offer a longer workshop on Play on 5th Oct, expanding their experiential approach to the challenge of being open to experience.

Hiromi Tango with Grace McQuilten: Hiromi and Grace talk about art, trauma and their collaboration for The Children’s Sensorium, inviting the audience to make together and contribute to the exhibition by knitting and weaving new addition for Hiromi’s work. No prior art or textiles skills required.

Stomach Ache: objects of digestion by Vanessa Bartlett, Rachel Marsden and artist Lindsay Kelley explores the felt sense of human-gastrointesintal relations. Participants are invited to think of (or bring along) an object that describes your relationship to your digestion and mind gut connection. The workshop aims to creatively reimagine the gastrointestinal tract and its impact on anxiety, wellbeing and social relationships. Lindsay Kelley will lead a tasting from her performance Dysphagiac, which responds to the feeding tube as an object that challenges social and sensory relationships with food. This event is designed to be supportive for people with different eating abilities and tasting elements will be optional.

Holding What You’re Holding: to start the event, complex trauma expert and lived experience researcher/educator Rebecca Moran will guide a reflection on what we bring with us into the Forum, and on how we might hold this throughout the two-day experience.

Finding Your Voice as a Lived Experience Expert is a session by Rebecca Moran for anyone thinking about beginning to work as an educator, activist, advocate, or other expert. Come to refine your voice, position, and story, and potentially take it to the open mic event on day two.

To decompress at the end of day one, there will be a choice of two activities – an Vocal Embodiment workshop with experimental vocalist and art therapist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang where participants will be guided through an embodiment, to locate their own unique listening experiences inside their body, and through playful vocal expression to vibrate and connect with these inner experiences.  — or Movement Decompress: being with emotion in movement by Tamara Borovica.  

Art (co) Lab table and Art Therapists – Dabble, decompress, relax and process. Art therapists are onboard to support the creative process and help you express whatever it is that’s on your mind, in your heart or at the tip of your fingers. Come and see what a little art therapy can do. Hosted by Skye Rogers and co.

Dr Leela Klein, trauma informed practitioner, specialising in Chinese medicine offers Shiatsu massage in the auditorium from 9.30-4.30pm, 6 Oct.

The Long Table: A conversation about suicide and distress

Hosted and led by people with lived experience, the Long Table conversation builds on the model recently evolved in a community setting in Warwick QLD See HERE and at the Big Anxiety forum in Brisbane. The Long Table is unmoderated and uncensored with the emphasis on creating a safe space in which to speak and listen to lived experience. The Long Table originated as a performance installation, developed by artist Lois Weaver, using the private form of a dinner table as a non-hierarchical structure for larger conversations on difficult subjects. The format elicits participation from a diverse range of experts-by-experience and enables anyone wishing to speak to join the table. The conversation is seeded by some invited guests who will include Josh Moorhouse (Lived Experience Co-design Researcher in the ALIVE National Centre for Mental Health Research Translation), Alise Blayney (poet and peer educator, also supported by ALIVE), Marnie Weule and members of Thirrili, Indigenous Suicide Postvention Service, and Cynthia Hoffman (who first attended the Long Table in Warwick, QLD). Further information about the protocol, safety guidelines and can by found via this link HERE

Commissioned project: Slice/Silence by Indigo Daya

This special project explores self-injury and silencing, and the implications of this in the larger context of societal silencing and blame around trauma and abuse. An installation at the Forum will provide a space to cut through silence and explore self-injury openly. Cushions and pillows stand in for bodies, each one bringing a unique history of violence. Visitors will be invited to engage with the cushions and pillows in any way they choose: injure them, heal or tend to them, hold them, speak to them, read them, write on them, destroy them or love them. People can also contribute and interact with the space from an online portal or share them on social media using the hashtag #slicesilence.

Conversation circles will be held during the forum, facilitated by Indigo. Guests will be invited to openly explore experiences of self-injury, silence and injustice while interacting with the installation. The conversations aim to give voice to experiences around self-injury that are normally silenced rather than being welcomed or heard. More info

Retreat Rooms

The Forum will include two escape rooms–A quiet one for time out or listening to a soothing meditation and a not-so-quiet one space for chat and more active pursuits. Designed by Rebecca Moran guided by a consumer survey. Please access the survey to input into this process HERE

Learning from Lived Experience: Exhibition

The curated exhibition component of the Forum space includes new video works, as well as Virtual Reality experiences previously commissioned by The Big Anxiety.

Video exhibits include to bloom by Daniel Regan, poetry by Achol Juk, and Nos-Otros, made with young people experiencing loneliness and isolation, by Lucia Barrera, one of number of artists discussing the work on site. Anita Glesta’s video UNNERVED, now showing in Fed Square this week (3-7 Oct), will also be included here.

Virtual Reality experiences:

Parragirls Past, Present – a deeply moving 3D immersive experience, unlocking memories of institutional ‘care’ by former residents’ visions of the Parramatta Girls Home.

Waumananyi: The Song on the Wind by Uti Kulintjaku (with fEEL) – an Anangu-led response to the experiences of constraint, entrapment, and depression through the traditional story (or ‘tjukurpa’) of ‘The Man in the Log’. Waumananyi is an innovative VR artwork used in remote communities in the APY Lands.

Being Debra by artist Debra Keenahan (giving floor talks, 6th Oct). Shot from a first-person perspective, Being Debra conveys Debra’s embodied experience of achondroplasia dwarfism in contemporary Australian society (with all its challenges, ugliness and triumphs). The VR experience includes her routine daily encounters as well as flashbacks to Debra’s memories of school, dating, and engaging with authority figures and the medical establishment.

Embodimap — a creative Virtual Reality experience that enables users to connect with and explore how their feelings, anxieties and emotions are experienced in the body.

AirSticks by Alon Ilsar, drummer, composer, improviser and instrument designer.

Opening address: Mary O’Hagan, Executive Director of Lived Experience, Mental Health and Wellbeing Division, Department of Health, Victoria.

The full program is available HERE. Note, it may be updated with new information.

We will also provide information on our trauma-informed approach.

Please note that this is not a clinically directed event. An experienced trauma counsellor will be present – and many of the presenters are experienced trauma-workers. However, we are guided by principles outlined by the consumer movement, lived experience scholarship and peer work, and by community partners. In particular, we align with critical mental health and disability perspectives that advocate experience-led practice. References will be provided so that you may determine in advance if the approach is right for you.

Supporters: The Big Anxiety Forum is supported by the Department of Health, Victoria; RMIT’s Enabling Capability Platforms of Social Change, Design and Creative Practice, and Biomedical Health Innovation; Workforce Innovation & Development Institute RMIT; Social & Global Studies Centre, RMIT and the Big Anxiety Research Centre, UNSW.

Images: Workshop with Marianne Wobcke, Long Table, Minola Theatre, at The Big Reach, Brisbane 2022. Photo by Markus Ravik. Still from ‘to bloom’ by Daniel Regan, 2020. Hiromi Tango, by Raghav Kumar.