A Ratoath man who has suffered from depression since the age of 11 has set up a Facebook page to share his story in the hope of encouraging others to speak out. Navan businessman Michael Gibson (42) wants to break the stigma associated with mental health by creating an online community where survivors can inspire those struggling to seek help.
Michael, who is married with three children and owns a mobile phone shop in Navan says that depression and anxiety were taboo subjects when he was growing up and his condition went undiagnosed for many years.
"I had everyone fooled for so long and pretended that there was nothing wrong, I was one of the best actors you'd ever meet. I'd go into work and put on the performance of a lifetime. Then I'd go home, take that mask off, get into bed and pull the duvet over my head. I just wanted to close myself off to the world. It was so bad that I would actually feel physically sick. It was completely debilitating. "
Michael Gibson wants to create a community support network
I set up the Lemonade Kart on Facebook as a page where sufferers and family and friends can jump on and read about many different mental health issues but also a place where there is a positive focus on improving mental fitness.
The phone shop proprietor not only wants to change the conversation around mental health but also the language that he says places a further barrier against people taking the steps to find support.
"When you say mental health, it sounds medical and almost terminal but when you call it mental fitness it implies that you can work on it and improve it. When you think of fitness, you think of many positive things you can do to improve it like going to the gym, taking a long walk or lifting weights. It's a normal perception that you can do something positive."
A number of high profile campaigns for Mental Health where the slogan is "its ok not to be ok" caught Michael's attention recently. Whilst he agrees with the sentiment he believes that simply knowing it's not a problem to be "not ok" is only half the battle.
"Instead of just jumping on a bandwagon and using a hashtag, we need to commit to doing something positive. We need more people to come forward and share their story.
Michael spent two years as a volunteer with Navan River Rescue and often had to assist with the recovery of bodies in the water, some due to suicide. "The reasons why so many people thought that there was no way out really played on my mind and it inspired me to try a make a difference."
The Ratoath man has a theory on why young men find it so hard to talk about their problems.
"It's all about bravado and feeling like you have to put an act on. The fear of being judged is what hold men back. They have been taught that if something happens, you put it up on your shoulders and you move on but there's only so much you can put on your shoulders before it weighs you down.
"I want to build a community where everyone supports each other. I'm not a trained professional, all I can do is share my experience. The aim is that someone can identify with another person's story and see what steps they took to make life worth living again. Instead of saying to someone, pull yourself together, you'll be grand, we need to say yes it can be like that but things can change. If I can make a difference to just one person from this page, It will be worth it."