Arts festival brings healing to a town impacted by suicide

Arts festival brings healing to a town impacted by suicide

The arts festival in Warwick, Queensland, curated by UNSW Sydney researchers, brought hope to people dealing with the devastating impact of youth suicide.

Can trauma be transformed through arts-based interventions? The results are in, and the answer is yes.

In April 2022, after months of collaboration between researchers and the local community and health care providers, Warwick community members gathered to participate in The Big Anxiety festival.

The background
Trauma and suicide – particularly prevalent and devastating within the First Nations community in Warwick – were having a devastating impact on the town in regional Queensland. The high rate of youth suicide meant many community members had lost a son or daughter, niece or nephew, and many more had lost friends, too.

The local community and healthcare providers desperately needed support to fill the gap in mental health and trauma services.

They sought help from the Big Anxiety Research Centre (BARC), an Australian Research Council-funded lab based at UNSW, that seeks to address mental health and well-being through community-based interventions. BARC’s founder-director, Scientia Professor Jill Bennett, and her team published a paper, ‘Transforming Trauma through an Arts Festival: A Psychosocial Case Study’, outlining the resulting collaboration and its outcomes this year.

BARC provides social and cultural responses to mental health needs, filling a gap in Australia’s mental health system noted by the Australian Productivity Commission in a report in 2020, which criticised the health system as being insufficiently people-focused with a “disproportionate focus on clinical services – overlooking [social and cultural] determinants of, and contributors to, mental health”.

“There is no medication for trauma,” says Prof. Bennet. “You can take medication for some symptoms, but it needs a cultural and social response rather than just a medical one. Trauma is not an ‘illness’; it comes from exposure to events, neglect, and abuse.”