The Big Anxiety Festival: Mental Health, Science and The Healing Power of Art

For those suffering from anxiety, the idea of heading out to a festival might sound like nothing short of a nightmare. But what if there was a festival based entirely around mental health and the arts?

Well, there is. In fact, it’s the world’s largest mental health and arts festival. Set to feature over 60 events, The Big Anxiety will run for seven weeks in Sydney, Australia, and it hopes to get people talking about their mental health while alleviating some of the myriad issues surrounding mental health problems.

Artists and scientists from around the world will attend. Events will cover everything from art installations with a focus on relaxation to talking events with an emphasis on participation and people, such as ‘Awkward Conversations’. Other examples of projects include Parra Girls Past and Present, a 3D cinematic work and self-guided audio walk exploring the site of abuse at the Parramatta Girls Home, where “children at risk” were previously homed and subject to abuse.

Aided by the University of New South Wales, the project itself is the brainchild of Jill Bennett, who noted that: “There’s a lot of evidence that art has a lot of impact when it comes to mental health. It’s not just a diversion – there is evidence that it impacts on mood and wellbeing.”

“We live in anxious time,” explains Bennett. “Mental health is the one area of health where there are no cures. Some things work a little bit, but not completely. But maybe the arts can be part of the mix. There are very few areas of medicine where you could say that. But we haven’t really systematically explored the effects of arts on mental health.”

Focusing on conversation and engagement, The Big Anxiety hopes to develop a fresh new take on the festival scene, crossing over into the health sector to create new opportunities for emerging and established artists while also creating something that brings some measure of assistance and support to those suffering from issues that don’t always receive the attention they deserve.

With anxiety arising in so many forms and seemingly becoming something of an epidemic among the younger generations, it’s wonderfully refreshing and inspiring to see a festival that focuses on such issues.