Broken parents of aspiring actress, 18, who took her life after struggling through Melbourne’s lockdown reveal their powerful message – as a Neighbours star and other artists reveal the pandemic’s toll on their mental health
- Athenie Kalos’ parents created a suicide prevention foundation in her honour after her death last month
- The 18-year-old took her own life on October 31, just days after Melbourne exited Covid lockdown
- The industry is rallying behind her as artists vow to recover from a crippling year which shut down the arts
- Fellow artists reveal how the months-long lockdown has impacted their careers and mental health
- Casting director Thea McLeod is hopeful industry will be stronger than ever as she discusses return to normal
Athenie Kalos (pictured), 18, was excited for the future and spend her last night alive making plans
The parents of an aspiring actress and musician who took her own life days after Melbourne’s brutal five-month Covid lockdown hope their tragic loss will provide a blueprint for other families in speaking about mental health issues.
Just two weeks after Athenie Kalos, 18, took her own life, her heartbroken parents, Peter and Yolla established a foundation in her honour.
At the height of the pandemic, artists expressed their concern that they’d been largely forgotten by the government stimulus packages – both JobKeeper and JobSeeker – and feared the lockdown and uncertainty about the fate of the industry could impact people’s mental health.
Athenie’s parents fear the lockdown could have contributed to her declining mental health, and were concerned that she didn’t feel comfortable in sharing her struggles.
They hope to encourage a discussion about suicide, remind the public that it isn’t a ‘dirty word’ and that even the happiest of people might be struggling more than they let on.
‘The emotions manifest into the physical body and it is bone crushing,’ Athenie’s father said as he spoke of how he and his wife had coped since the 18-year-old’s death.
‘If we can show you that we’re hurting right now and sharing, you should feel okay to share your pain and your struggles and your suffering.’
So far, $62,000 has been raised in Athenie’s honour, and her parents have now set their sights on helping other families and survivors.
Athenie spent the evening of October 31 at her family’s home in Melbourne. She booked into a barista’s course, applied for university, ordered some clothes and then Googled ‘ways to take your life’.
Mr Kalos said he and wife had spent hours looking at photos trying to find ‘the sadness in her eyes’.
‘There’s no smoking gun,’ he said.
‘We’ve spoken therapists and friends, but we can’t find anything… There were no drugs, she didn’t have boyfriend problems, and police took her computer and all her diaries and found no reason why she did this.’
Her father Peter Kalos he spent hours looking at photos trying to find the ‘sadness in her eyes’
Similarly, former Neighbours actress and Melbourne-based performer Kahli Williams said the Covid pandemic had changed the entire trajectory of her year
Five days before Athenie died, Melbourne exited the world’s longest lockdown, which effectively lasted 111 days from March 26 until October 27, as the city battled a deadly second wave of coronavirus.
The restrictions severely restricted human contact outside the family home to stem the spread of the virus.
Mr Kalos, an acting teacher in his 50s, spoke to therapists after his daughter’s death and believes that any underlying depression issues she had could have had were likely intensified during lockdown.
‘It’s all a guessing game, and she was alone in her room when she wasn’t with us during lockdown, but that time also brought us closer together as a family,’ he said.
He hopes the foundation, named Athenie’s Angels, will collaborate with established charities in Australia, including Beyond Blue, to increase support for people struggling with their mental health.
The foundation will be a ‘platform for people to reach out and share their stories’, designed to encourage people to speak about their mental health, after the family were inundated with people sharing their own struggles.
The family have the backing of Melbourne’s weary entertainment sector, brimming with artists who have their own stories to share about their experience during the Covid crisis.
Through talks with therapists, Mr Kalos said he understood that any underlying depression issues she had could have had would have intensified during lockdown
Former Neighbours actress and Melbourne-based performer Kahli Williams (pictured) said the Covid pandemic had changed the entire trajectory of her year
Former Neighbours actress and Melbourne-based performer Kahli Williams told Daily Mail Australia the Covid pandemic had changed the entire trajectory of her year.
She was in Los Angeles searching for apartments, having just secured a Visa, when the Covid crisis drew her home to Melbourne, where she was thrust into a lockdown and forced out of work.
‘My part time marketing work ended up folding when the client had to make budget cuts… I was lucky my parents didn’t turn my old bedroom into a Pump and Pilates studio, Kath and Kim style, because I landed back with them for a few months,’ she said.
Three separate gigs for 2020 that Williams had shaped most of her year around were cancelled or postponed, but she has hope that a ‘recalibration is happening’ and that lockdown will have forced people to consider just how much they rely on the arts.
‘Where would we have been without books, film, television and music? It seems ludicrous that we’ve structured our management of society such that we feel entitled to the art, but discard the artist.
‘Art shapes culture and inspires the soul of humanity, and I don’t see a future without it. So it has to bounce back.
Pictured: Peter Kalos and his wife Yolla. Their daughter took her own life on November 1
For Robbie Ryde, an Australian actor and producer who divides his time between Melbourne and Los Angeles, lockdown tested his mental health more than ever before
‘I’d like to think that the stripping back of lifestyle has highlighted the importance of the arts toward culture and humanity… Australia has pulled through remarkably well, so perhaps that will entice more projects to our shores.’
For Robbie Ryde, an Australian actor and producer who divides his time between Melbourne and Los Angeles, lockdown tested his mental health more than ever before.
‘I just lost all motivation, that daily drive,’ he said. ‘I really had to go back to the drawing board.’
Ryde said most artists in Australia are ‘experts at stretching the dollar’ and can ‘find a way to keep creating’ – which is exactly what eventually motivated him through lockdown, even as he didn’t qualify for JobKeeper or Jobseeker payments.
He and his partner Jess Orcsik, the daughter of Australian television royalty Paula Duncan and John Orcsik, created an online workshop called ‘Empowering The Artist’ to connect with others in the same position across the nation and globally.
‘We’ve been forced to reconnect with the work and the love of the process, not the results,’ he said.
Ryde had plans to relocate to Los Angeles, where Orcsik lives, earlier this year, but the move was put on hold during the pandemic.
Now that restrictions are beginning to ease in Melbourne, he’s planning to make the move again, and said his plans for 2020 are to continue creating, no matter where he’s based.
He and his partner Jess Orcsik (pictured together right), the daughter of Australian television royalty Paula Duncan and John Orcsik, created an online workshop called ‘Empowering The Artist’ to connect with others in the same position across the nation and globally
Robbie Ryde (pictured with partner Jess) said artists will always find a way to continue creating, but acknowledged that lockdown had challenged him
Pictured: Neighbours casting director Thea McLeod
The entire industry has a tough few months ahead as the state finally emerges from a draconian lockdown which appears to have worked in stemming the spread of the deadly respiratory virus.
‘It’s going to be hard,’ Melbourne-based casting director Thea McLeod said.
McLeod has spent the better part of the last decade helping to decide which actors appear in long-running television drama, Neighbours, and considers herself lucky that she was still busy throughout the crisis.
‘Neighbours only had a very brief shutdown, but we operated almost right through. It did look different, though,’ she said.
While McLeod is accustomed to working with actors face-to-face on a regular basis, her entire industry was forced to switch to an online approach in early 2020.
She knew the transition – and unnaturally long amount of time cooped up at home – wouldn’t be easy for a lot of creatives in the industry, and did what she could to check in on her colleagues.
‘I was Zooming, doing little 10 minute chats here and there when I could… Speaking with other casting directors from overseas and running international classes,’ she said.
The work kept her busy during the seemingly never-ending lockdown, which she completed at her home with her 18-year-old law student son, Finn, and husband.
‘We all kept pretty busy, I learned a lot about the law from Finn’s lectures, but we really just respected each other’s space,’ McLeod said.
She understood that others didn’t have it quite so simple.
‘But a lot of actors were out of work just like that,’ she said. ‘I was lucky to have the work. But for a lot of the people on sets – everything from the people you see on screens through to the people who work behind-the-scenes, they lost everything quite suddenly’.
Melbourne’s entertainment industry was thriving before the pandemic, but many working actors and entertainers rely on side hustles, part time hospitality and retail work and other business ventures to get by.
The acting teacher, in his 50s, went on to describe his very active daughter’s strong sense of self (pictured: a memorial for Athenie Kalos)
Athenie Kalos (pictured) spent the evening of November 1 booking in a barista course, applying for university, making plans with her boyfriend and ordering clothes
When the second wave struck, they found themselves out of work, without a clue when they’d return – and for many, without government funding.
‘JobKeeper, JobSeeker, the government funding simply didn’t account for so many of these creatives,’ McLeod explained, referencing the stringent criteria which frustrated unions at the height of the pandemic.
The industry has crawled out of lockdown and things are already looking promising, with productions getting underway again and several grants announced to create new content.
But there are still concerns that despite being one of the first impacted at the height of the pandemic, the entertainment sector will be one of the last to entirely recover.
Patrick Phillips, the City of Melbourne’s arts media officer, told Daily Mail Australia several extraordinary steps had already been taken to boost the arts sector.
Buskers will once again take to the streets of Melbourne’s CBD leading up to Christmas, $17 million has been put away for the arts budget for 2020/2021 and grants of up to $20,000 will be awarded for projects in 2021.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyondblue 1300 22 4636
Mr Ryde had plans to relocate to Los Angeles, where Ms Orcsik lives, earlier this year, but the move was put on hold during the pandemic
What the City of Melbourne is doing to support artists post-lockdown
Joint project with the Victorian Government to transform CBD laneways into creative spaces. More details about the first laneways will be announced soon.
$2.8 million in grants were awarded to 32 arts and creative organisations.
Arts Grants and Quick Response Arts Grants:
Grants of up to $20,000 per project are being handed out in 2021.
City of Melbourne arts budget:
More than $17 million set aside to support Melbourne’s arts and creative community in the 2020/21 financial year.
Melbourne Music Week Extended:
Melbourne Music Week’s dates have been changed and the program extended to better support live music venues and artists.
Investment of $2.6 million through the Events Partnership Program to support city events.
Return of buskers:
Announced last week, City of Melbourne are helping bring buskers back to Melbourne.
There will be 20 buskers per day across 20 CBD locations every week until Christmas. Buskers are being paid by Council and ANZ to perform.