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UNSW Sydney will launch Big Anxiety Research Centre (BARC)

Building on the success of the touring Big Anxiety Festival, BARC will continue to pioneer innovations in trauma informed mental health research. Join the launch live-streamed on Friday 11 Nov, 4pm.

The Big Anxiety Research Centre has been established at UNSW to advance a rethink of mental health support through a cultural lens. Bringing together researchers specialising in trauma and mental health across the arts and social sciences, and prioritising lived experience and survivor perspectives, BARC aims to provide the rich communications, creative tools and programs that we need to support mental distress and trauma within communities.

Founding Director, ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Jill Bennett says: “The Big Anxiety is a chance to develop a cultural approach to mental health beyond the clinical realm, developing the resources people need to address trauma and distress in everyday community settings. BARC’s research mission is to extend the development of trauma-informed, community-based work with demonstrable psychosocial benefits.”

Prof. Bennett’s team is known especially for large scale immersive media projects, which to date have included Waumananyi – a virtual reality collaboration with Uti Kulintjaku, Ngangkari (healers) in the APY Lands; the Embodimap VR tool, currently being trialled in a clinical trauma program; and more recent projects exploring experiences of psychiatric admission to the emergency department, and of borderline personality diagnosis.

This expertise in experiential media and program design is complemented by UNSW’s strength in social work and social practice, with its strong focus on understanding health ecologies and the social determinants of trauma and mental health.

BARC’s fellows and associates include consumer researchers, and award-winning First Nations artist, midwife and trauma specialist, Marianne Wobcke, who says: “If we want to address trauma, we need to look beyond the medical model to a broader cultural vision. Healing is about connection to Country, to culture, to community. First Nations approaches understand this.”

BARC builds on the success of The Big Anxiety festival. First staged across Greater Sydney in 2017, and then in 2019, the initial festivals attracted over 270,000 visitors. In early 2022, The Big Anxiety expanded to Queensland, launching The Big Reach program of events in Warwick, Brisbane, and Gold Coast, with Edge of Present, the world’s first VR environment developed for suicide prevention, travelling to Maroochydore.


In September/October 2022, The Big Anxiety Festival took place in Naarm/Melbourne. With an emphasis on learning from lived experience, the festival has developed a 2-day intensive program using art-based experiences and creative tools to explore new ways of working with trauma and distress.

The Bridging Hope Charity Foundation has recently announced that it will support a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at BARC and short courses will be offered in March 2023.

The BARC launch is livestreamed on Friday 11 Nov, 4pm. Register to join:

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