Five Minutes with Kate O’Keeffe, writer and performer of Losing You (Twice)
What’s the story behind your new play, Losing You (Twice)?
Losing You (Twice) tells the journey my family and I took from July 2011 when my brother Daniel disappeared up until his remains were found in March 2016. I speak about how I felt at the time he went missing and how my family and I coped through the long years of not knowing what had happened to him. I talk of the hope and the despair.
What compelled you to share such a personal story with the world?
I needed to do something with my grief. I wanted to express myself and mark this experience somehow. I’ve found it hard to talk about my loss in daily life because so much of our day-to-day interactions are superficial. I needed to talk about it but felt I could really only do that in therapy or one-on-one conversations with close friends. I think this is because there is still a stigma attached to mental illness and suicide.
Up until it became a gruelling reality for me, suicide had been an abstract idea, a list of statistics. It’s something I never expected would touch my family. I wasn’t aware of just how awful the statistics are for young men in Australia. People need to know about this – we need to be aware of the signs and pay careful attention to our young men.
How serious are the issues of missing persons and support networks in Australia?
Very serious. Missingness was a concept I had never considered before. I had no idea that so many Australians (100) are reported missing every day. There are currently 1,600 long-term missing Australians. It is said that 12 people are directly affected when one person disappears. That adds up to a lot of people who experience this ambiguous loss.
There was basically no (practical or emotional) support available for us when Dan went missing. The police did very little because it wasn’t suspicious, so we were left to deal with our predicament alone. There was no manual or guide anywhere of what to do. My sister Loren Googled “What to do when someone goes missing” and was met with academic papers. That’s why she felt she had to write the Missing Persons Guide and create MPAN (the Missing Persons Advocacy Network).
What’s one simple thing we can do to prevent losing people?
I think we need to start having open and honest conversations about mental health, so people feel more comfortable about speaking up. Especially men. It’s an illness, like any other illness. It shouldn’t be taboo.