Support at Festival Events – Don’t Rush Home!

During the festival you may encounter artworks, experiences or events that give rise to emotions, thoughts or feelings that need to be worked through or discussed. We encourage everyone to take time to review and process these experiences for your own wellbeing.

‘Don’t Rush Home’ Guide 

Don’t Rush Home is a concept adapted from First Fortnight, a festival in Ireland that uses arts and culture to challenge mental health stigma while supporting vulnerable people through creative processes.

The idea is that no one should leave the festival feeling upset, distressed, concerned or confused. We hope that visitors have positive and beneficial experiences, but we recognise that complex material or feelings need processing – and very often an experience is enhanced by discussion.

Don’t Rush Home is an informal invitation to share your experience, chat with our volunteers or seek out Big Anxiety staff for further engagement. We make an effort to recruit and deploy volunteers at our main events/exhibitions for this purpose.

Don’t hesitate to make contact – and if you can’t find a volunteer, venues should be able to connect you with our staff. The festival director is keen to connect with you if you’d like to talk.

Finally, it is important to maintain healthy boundaries for the health and safety for yourself and those around you. If at any time you are feeling uncomfortable, please feel free to chat with a volunteer or staff member.

The ‘Don’t Rush Home’ guide is available HERE to download


We take seriously our duty of care to all those participating in the festival. The procedure below, developed in consultation with our Mental Health Lead and advising clinicians, sets out the formal process visitors, staff and volunteers should follow if they are in distress, wish to process experience or are simply wanting to chat.
Note staff is used below to refer to both venue and festival staff, as well as all artists, academics, creatives etc. contracted by The Big Anxiety festival.

Attendee wanting to debrief/process their experience at TBA

If the festival raises issues that need discussion and you do NOT need immediate specialist assistance

  1. Talk to one of our friendly volunteers, wearing the black Awkward Conversations t-shirts/pink lanyards, or staff before you leave.
  2. If no volunteer is present, talk to venue staff. You do not need to be in distress or making a complaint to do this. Don’t Rush Home means that you’re welcome to ask for a chat any time!
Attendee needing assistance

If immediate assistance IS required

  1. Talk to a volunteer or staff member. If you can’t see a volunteer or staff member, see Front of House at all venues who can put you in touch.
  2. Volunteers/staff will (where appropriate) provide you with a contact for a 24/7 counselling service; take you to a quiet space and/or seek further professional support. For some events, we will have professionals on site, such as counsellors or members of our mental health clinical advisory group. Volunteers can direct you to these professionals or help you find other support.
  3. If you are in crisis, a volunteer will direct you to a member of staff who will assist you in accessing appropriate medical support, or if necessary, call 000.
Attendee wanting to give feedback

Leave written feedback via the feedback form available at the venue front desk or from volunteers.

NOTE: this form is for feedback requiring attention. It is not an event survey. Feedback is followed up by The Big Anxiety staff in all instances and if necessary, referred to our mental health clinical advisory group.

The Long Table

The Long Table is based on a format developed by Lois Weaver (who writes about it in our book, The Big Anxiety: Taking Care of Mental Health in Times of Crisis). Introduced by Lois in our 2017 festival, the Long Table has since been used in The Big Anxiety for lived experience-led discussions of feelings associated with trauma and suicide.

A Long Table is set up like a dinner table with an ‘etiquette’ formulated by Lois [see HERE]. People participating may choose to sit on the sidelines and listen to the conversation or join the table at any time. There is no pressure to speak or not speak — but guests must come to the table to talk. The aim of this format is to create a non-hierarchical, inclusive space for conversation.

It is not about control or achieving a specific outcome but holding a space of deep listening and respect for others and their opinions and experiences – whether they align with your own or not. Participants speak one at a time, coming to the table to share thoughts with the table — and may join or leave the table at any time. Participants respect the privacy of what is said in the room.

Experiencing strong emotions is natural and healthy. We ask only that you do not hurt yourself, others or the environment –  and ensure respectful communication. Being ‘triggered’ or feeling various degrees of reaction is to be expected when people become conscious of trauma held and emerging from within. Participants are welcome to leave the room if necessary to process their reactions privately, before returning.

Trauma-informed counsellors are present and available on request. Massage is available in the room, during the Long Table. In our Melbourne Forum, this is provided by trauma informed, Shiatsu practitioner Dr Leela Klein. The retreat rooms are open throughout the event. Decompression activities will be offered following the Long Table.

In accordance with The Big Anxiety’s ‘Don’t rush home’ policy – we encourage anyone with feelings of distress to make contact, share feelings or talk to us before leaving. Participants are encouraged to talk to the host(s) and/or counsellors about support needs.

There is no moderator in a Long Table—and no rules about what is discussed. It is a lived-experienced-led community discussion rather than a clinician-led process. Whilst many people report finding this a warm and supportive environment, we encourage participants to reflect on whether they are in the right frame of mind to listen to stories of pain and distress, and to talk to event hosts in advance if in doubt.

Our trauma-informed approach is inspired by and aligns with principles of peer support and the generational orientation of other consumer-led approaches to discussion of trauma and suicide, such as Alternatives to Suicide and Suicide Narratives by Humane Clinic.

Australian Human Rights Institute Associate Rebecca Moran and Scientia Professor Jill Bennett discuss The Long Table in Human Rights Defender, the newsletter from The Australian Human Rights Institute. HERE

Cultural Safety

The Big Anxiety is committed to cultural safety. This entails ensuring a space in which First Nations people can safely talk about experience.  First Nations artists, trauma-workers and community leaders are central to our program and make an important contribution to our Long Tables.  We invite participants to listen compassionately to their experiences with awareness of how our own cultural values, knowledge, skills and attitudes are formed and affect others. This includes a responsibility to address unconscious bias, racism and discrimination. For further information, see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety.

2019 Podcast Series

The Big Anxiety Artistic Director Jill Bennett discusses the 2019 program and how the arts are the best means we have for sharing complex experiences. They show us what we don’t know about ourselves and others. They shine light on the relationships and social settings that help or hinder mental health, and they are a means to transform those relationships. Jill talks about the six-week Festival, spanning mental health month (October) uses 62 projects, 25 venues, 9 exhibitions and 8 Ambassadors, across multiple creative platforms including immersive media, visual art, conversation, film, multi-media, performance, poetry, song, and virtual reality to explore various ways for us to connect, hear and be heard; and to make change by breaking down barriers people experience and through building better futures.

Click here to listen to the Full Podcast Series

Click Here to Download the Transcript of this PODCAST with Professor Jill Bennett

Autism and Neurodiversity: language conventions

The Big Anxiety respects individual preferences for either ‘identity first’ language (eg. “I am an autistic artist/person”) or ‘person first’ language (“I am an artist/person with autism”).

We actively endorse the neurodiversity movement and the view that neurological difference reflects natural variation rather than deficit. As such we follow the lead of participating artists who use identity first language in relation to autism as a means of affirming and validating autistic experience. This position is outlined in the following articles:

Psychology Today
Autistic Advocacy
The Conversation

However, with regard to mental health, we generally use person-first language and avoid the use of language that identifies a person with an illness, disorder or condition.

Academic Articles on The Big Anxiety

Psychosocial aesthetics and the art of lived experience  by Jill Bennett, Lynn Froggett, Lizzie Muller in Journal of Psychosocial Studies • vol 12 • nos 1-2 • 185–201.

This article identifies the distinctive nature of arts-based psychosocial enquiry and practice in a public mental health context, focusing on two projects delivered as part of The Big Anxiety festival, in Sydney, Australia in 2017: ‘Awkward Conversations’, in which one-to-one conversations about anxiety and mental health were offered in experimental aesthetic formats; and ‘Parragirls Past, Present’, a reparative project, culminating in an immersive film production that explored the enduring effects of institutional abuse and trauma and the ways in which traumatic experiences can be refigured to transform their emotional resonance and meaning. Bringing an arts-based enquiry into lived experience into dialogue with psychosocial theory, this article examines the transformative potential of aesthetic transactions and facilitating environments, specifically with regard to understanding the imbrication of lived experience and social settings.

If you can’t access this, please email


Radio National All in the Mind 


Lancet Psychiatry podcast The Art of Mental Health from Nov 2017 

Art and Anxiety

The Anxiety Issue of Artlink (2017)

On Art and Anxiety: ‘We Are All Anxious Now’ Tate [Issue 39: Spring 2017]

Conversations about Suicide

Conversations Matter [Online]

Edge of the Present features at 1:06 in this 2021 SBS documentary Osher Günsberg: A Matter of Life and Death. Osher investigates how innovative thinking, and new science and technology could help prevent suicide, while examining why suicide rates remain high in Australia and reflecting on his own mental health issues.

Osher Gunsberg: Australia Uncovered

fEEL Lab Projects

EmbodiMap Virtual Reality. Immersive interactive experience, 2020/21.

Hard Place / Good Place. Augmented Reality experience, demo, 2021.

The Visit. Immersive interactive VR experience, 2019. Download The Visit VR for Oculus Quest here.

waumananyi: the song on the wind. Immersive experience, 2019. Trailer.

Parragirls Past, Present. Unlocking memories of Institutional care. Immersive experience, 2017. Trailer.

Edge of the Present. Immersive experience, 2019.

Useful websites and phone numbers

Independent Mental Health Advocacy
Call 1300 947 820 to speak to an advocate about your rights and for support to speak up about your assessment, treatment and recovery. Call 1800 959 353 to hear a free recording of your rights under the Mental Health Act 2014. This phone line is available 24 hours a day.

Black Dog Institute
Fact sheets for consumers, families and careers mental illness. Anonymous validated screening tools for identifying depression and bipolar disorder.

An anonymous, confidential online support program shown in research trials to reduce the symptoms of moderate depression over 8 weeks of use; the tool tracks recovery and response to treatment as well as providing self-directed interventions.

1800 187 263
Factsheets on illnesses and treatments as well as a phone line for advice on local support groups and facilities.

Man Therapy
For men wanting to check out their mental health and get advice on getting help.

Mind Health Connect
Information and support for people with mental illnesses, their families and friends.


13 11 14
For anyone having a personal crisis. 24-hour telephone counselling, information and referral service.

Mensline Australia

1300 789 978
24-hour support for men dealing with family and relationship problems.

Foundation House

A specialist refugee trauma agency supporting survivors of torture and other traumatic events to rebuild their lives
(03) 9389 8900

A specialist organisation supporting people and communities heal the scars of torture and refugee trauma and rebuild their lives in Australia
(02) 9646 6700

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
Offers mental health and psychosocial support to forcibly displaced people
(02) 9356 3888

House of Welcome
Provides welcome, shelter and support for refugees and people seeking asylum
(02) 9727 9290

Anglicare Mental Health and Community Living Supports for Refugees provides support to refugees and asylum seekers who are experiencing mental health challenges.
1300 111 278

Beyond Blue

1300 224 636
Information on depression, anxiety and related disorders, available treatments and where to get help.

Carers Australia

1800 242 636
Family carer support and counselling.

Relationships Australia

1300 364 277
Relationship support and counselling service for individuals, families and communities.

Suicide Call Back service

1300 659 467
24-hour telephone counselling service for those at risk of suicide, carers of someone who is suicidal and those bereaved by suicide.

Reach Out
Online youth mental health service. Expert generated mobile-friendly site and forums.

Bite Back
BITE BACK developed by the Black Dog Institute is an online space for young people which promotes resilience.

Kids Helpline
1800 551 800


1800 737 732
For anyone with experience of family violence


1800 184 527
LGBTIQ+ individuals

RMIT – Student urgent mental health support

1300 305 737
For RMIT students

RMIT EAP – Benestar 

1300 360 364
For RMIT Employees