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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

The Big Feels Club

Co‑founded by Graham Panther and Honor Eastly in 2017, the Big Feels Club creates spaces for people with ‘big, scary feelings’ to hear from others who share similar experiences.

The Big Feels Club provides peer‑led resources, including articles, podcasts, peer discussion spaces and digital self‑help tools, for people experiencing long‑term psychological distress.

Mr Panther describes the Big Feels Club as primarily for people who have tried to get support from the mental health system but found it has not been as helpful as they expected.

Big Feels Club is for the people who are doing all the things that are supposed to help. The people who have been asking for help for years, who have tried all the things the system has to offer, often multiple times, but still don’t really feel any better.

Both Mr Panther and Ms Eastly said they have had this experience and found it very isolating.

All the mainstream mental health spaces, the main message seems to be ‘go see your GP’, and it’s like, ‘yeah well, thanks but I’ve tried that a few times actually, what now?’ We started to wonder, wouldn’t it be great if there was somewhere we could talk about this with people who get it?

The Big Feels Club started as a small meet up in Mr Panther and Ms Eastly’s living room and now has more than 6,000 community members and more than one million downloads of its podcasts and articles. It was a finalist at the VicHealth Health Promotion Awards in 2019.

Mr Panther noted that despite the main offerings of the Big Feels Club being ‘light touch’ and often one‑way, ‘for many this is enough to feel part of something bigger, to feel their pain is no longer a private burden, but an opportunity to feel connected to others going through similar things’.

Mr Panther and Ms Eastly often speak to Big Feels Club members to understand how the platform is supporting them. In response, the members regularly speak about the importance of understanding they are not alone in how they feel:

I have never felt so understood in all my life. I had given up hoping I might ever hear it spoken from another person.

The Big Feels Club was a profound part of my own experience of clawing for life. And it continues to sustain me through current struggles.

Mr Panther said this gets to the core of what the Big Feels Club offers and the importance of peer support.

It is one of the few spaces that people can go and not feel that anyone is trying to fix them. In my experience, this is a sacred thing. Our services are not like clinically led services which aim to reduce symptoms. The Big Feels Club is more about helping people find meaning in those tough experiences.

Mr Panther and Ms Eastly set up the Big Feels Club to be an example of ways to meet previously unmet community needs, outside of the traditional services available. They would like to see more opportunities for peer‑led initiatives to grow and become sustainable through funding pathways and development opportunities so that peer‑led solutions become a core part of Victoria’s wider response to people in distress.

Source: Graham Panther, Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020; Graham Panther, Radical Connections: the real future of digital mental health, Keynote address at E-Mental Health Expert Forum, Auckland University of Technology, October 2018.