Belfast Telegraph

Boyfriend of Belfast model Mairead O'Neill reveals heartbreak following her death

'Losing Mairead was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with in my life, but she just couldn't cope without her mummy... now I want to help others struggling like she did'

BY Leona O'Neill

The heartbroken boyfriend of Belfast model Mairead O'Neill, who took her own life last October, has set up a special gym programme to help those battling mental health problems.

The 21-year-old, who was from the Markets area of the city, died just 10 months after her beloved mother Karen Phelan passed away from bowel cancer aged just 45.

Mairead had struggled with her mental health since she was a child and the death of her mother hit her hard.

Now, her boyfriend Keaton Moore (28), a personal trainer at Gym Co in the Finaghy area of south Belfast, is channelling his grief into a project that he hopes will prevent other people suffering a loss such as his.

Speaking publicly for the first time about his girlfriend's death, he says: "Mairead and I were together for 13 months before she died. Her mummy passed away three months after we got together. She really struggled with her mental health after losing her.

"Mairead was unbelievable. She was one of a kind. She was so special, she was different. She had it all. She was a model. She just couldn't see what everyone else could see. If she had only reached down inside herself and looked at herself a bit more she would have been flying. But it was terrible to see someone struggle like that.

"She just couldn't cope without her mummy. She had me, her sister Bronagh and her brother Brendan constantly trying to help her cope.

"Mairead was just 20 years old when she lost her mum and when she died she had just come through her first birthday without her. She just went downhill. She missed her mummy so much."

Recalling the traumatic events that unfolded the evening Mairead died, Keaton reveals how he, her sister and brother raced to Mairead's home after receiving an alarming text from her. Tragically, they arrived too late to save her.

"The night she died she had texted me, Bronagh and Brendan," says Keaton. "We rushed to her straight away and we found her. I tried my best to resuscitate her and bring her back to life, but I just knew that she was gone. It was terrible. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with in my life.

"I pretty much fought the battle with Mairead for the 13 months we were together, alongside her brother and sister. I knew all the feelings she was going through and at times she didn't have the strength to fight herself. I was trying so hard to fix her that I was breaking myself in the process, but I couldn't not have tried to help her.

"That is what you need to do when you love someone. You have to look after them. And I would just feel every bit of pain she did. I've never seen someone fight a battle like that in my life.

"And at times I wish I could have fought it for her. But I couldn't. I always knew in my heart that I would lose her through tragedy. I knew that day was coming but I tried to prevent it as much as I could. But I just couldn't do it. And she couldn't hold on."

Keaton freely admits that the past few months have seen him go to "some very dark places". But he says that he also realised that life was short and precious and, as a means of trying to find something positive amid the heartache, he turned his attention to developing a programme that would help others - and, in turn, help him navigate grief.

"It has just been terrible," he says. "I have never felt a pain or loss like that in my life. There were times I thought to myself I'd be doing well if I saw 2019. But one thing about me is that I am a very positive person. I thought to myself that life is precious. I am living my life for two people now and that is why I started the Move Your Mind Programme.

"I was always going to do the programme. Mairead was going to be my first client. We would have gone out walking, but she just didn't have the confidence to get to the gym. She told me that she wanted to get her mum's first year anniversary behind her in December and then she'd be the first girl in Move Your Mind. But she just couldn't hold on.

"After she died I thought it was time that I started doing everything I was doing for Mairead's mental health, for my own mental health. I know how much physical exercise can boost your mood and energy. I know how important good nutrition is and why it helps to get structure and routine into your week and that is why I created the Move Your Mind programme.

"The steps I have taken to help me get back on track during my hardest days are ones I know can help people in similar situations. And they are steps I want to share with people who need it most.

"I have created a combined mental and physical fitness programme to help deal with the serious mental health issues in our city and beyond.

"The programme is designed to help people in a dark place, struggling with their mental health, in what I believe is the best and most positive way possible.

"Move Your Mind is really about moving your mind from a dark place to a positive one.

"Just one positive thought and step forward is all that it takes to start a new beginning. I want people to take the first step and I'll walk by their side the rest of the way until they are mentally and physically strong enough to regain their balance again.

"People deal with things in different ways. Some people take to drink and drugs. Doctors give out medication, but I think that's just numbing the pain. You need to make a move. You need to get to the gym. And if there is someone there to believe in you and help you along that journey, that makes the difference.

"If someone makes that first step and comes to me, I'll give them the tools to get them back on track.

"I believe that I have that positive energy and strength that not many people have. And I've walked in those shoes."

Keaton wants people to take that first brave step to recovery and vows to be there for them on their journey.

"I started to write a journal, since Mairead passed away," he says. "There were some days when I couldn't even get out of bed. I just started to write down three things each day that I was grateful for. Then three things I wanted to achieve that day, then three things I wanted to achieve that week.

"And once I started ticking that off, it felt amazing. Then I got myself to the gym and developed this programme.

"For every person I help, I help a bit of myself too. Starting this programme will be the hardest step to take, but it will be the most rewarding. Three to six months of putting yourself in positive situations, surrounding yourself with positive people, can change your life."

Keaton says his ultimate aim is to open Northern Ireland's first mental health gym.

"I know I have it in me to help hundreds of people," he says.

"The programme is gym-based at the moment. But come July it will be an online service where I can reach people all over the country. Further down the line I want to have my own Move Your Mind gym, the first mental health gym in the country.

"I'm a personal trainer, which is my absolute passion. I know this programme is a chance for people to trust me and open up about their problems.

"What happened with Mairead was the saddest and toughest time in my life and I owe it to her to give people the opportunity to talk through their thoughts and fears in the hope that my story and my experience prevents this from happening all over again."

For more information on the Move Your Mind programme log on to Keaton Moore - Personal Trainer - Fitness Model Facebook page. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090 or Lifeline 080 8808 8000

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