Welcome to The Big Anxiety, 2021! Since our last major festival in 2019, the world has changed. The arts sector was decimated as a result of shutdowns, while the mental health system has struggled to deal with the fallout of COVID, as well as the devastating impact of bushfires, drought and floods in many regions.
The need for a creative and cultural approach to mental health has never been greater.
Mental ill-health and suicide in Australia directly cost the country between $43 and $70 billion in 2018-2019. These pre-COVID figures come from the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report (2020), which exposed critical gaps in the mental health system. Most notably, it found the system to be insufficiently people-focused; ill equipped to meet changing community needs, particularly in a time of crisis; and disproportionately focused on clinical services (thereby overlooking the importance of external, social factors).
In response, the Prime Minister has called for a “whole of community approach” to mental health reform — to which the arts and cultural sector is surely vital. The arts are the best means we have for sharing complex experience — and for overcoming the communications and engagement deficits that prevent many people from finding adequate support.
The World Health Organisation suggests that up to 80% of people with mental health issues don’t seek help. In Australia, it is generally estimated that
~65% of those with mental health concerns do not seek help (far higher in less advantaged or marginalised populations); and recent research indicates that more than 50% of those who take their own lives have not reached out for help. This is a communications and engagement challenge that requires innovative people-focused, design thinking — and solutions that go beyond the narrow realm of clinical practice or ‘awareness raising’. We need creative, trauma-informed ways to connect with people facing challenges — often linked to catastrophic events — within their communities. This means working together, combining insights and expertise from lived experience, arts, science, health and community practice. It also means privileging and learning from First Nations cultures, which have always understood the inexorable links between arts, culture and health.
For these reasons, our 2021 festival theme is The Big Reach. Working within the constraints and unpredictability of the COVID environment, we are focusing our Brisbane festival around a limited number of live events, and a two-day Big Reach intensive. This will flow into further events on the Gold Coast, in Warwick and across the Darling Downs, where we are working with local partners to create a responsive cultural platform for direct engagement with mental health. This will encompass a range of experimental workshops and community film and media-making projects, exploring the question of what mental health support might be in regional communities in Australia in the 2020s.
We remain committed to delivering live engagements and face-to-face collaborative work (even if/when this sometimes involves rescheduling) as well as to our experiments in virtual reality and immersive media, which are shared with regional, remote and global audiences.
We hope that you will join us in Queensland for what will be an exciting program, building on what we’ve learned over the past few years, and on the amazing partnerships we continue to build along the way. And if you can’t be there, stay tuned for further events…
Founding Director & Co-Director, The Big Anxiety Queensland
On behalf of The Big Anxiety Queensland leadership team:
Ben McKinnon, Metro South Health, Co-Artistic Director
Nigel Lavender, Momentum Arts, Executive Director
“We often talk about the need to do things differently in mental health care, stretch our thinking, be creative and yet we generally do the same thing. The Big Anxiety offers us something really innovative – it’s a pathway to bold new ideas and collaborative thinking which is exactly what we need in mental health care”.
Assistant Director of Nursing, Metro South Addiction and Mental Health Services, Brisbane.