When you hear the name Michael Phelps, what comes to mind? Swimming, perhaps? Water, pools, the Olympics? Gold medals (23 of them!)? Any and all of these are reasonable connections to make. If you look up images of Michael Phelps online, most of them involve one or more of those things. But there’s another facet to Phelps’ life that is less conspicuous: depression.
Since his retirement from swimming in 2016, Phelps’ mental health has improved considerably, and he has since started sharing his personal struggles with the world. His first experience with depression occurred in the months following his first gold medal at the Athens Olympic games, Phelps shared in an interview with CNN. This depression developed into a trend of “explosions” after each Olympic win. Phelps resorted to self-medicating “basically daily” in order to escape his feelings. The worst of these “explosions” transpired in 2012, following the London Olympics. At this time, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence for the second time and was consequently suspended by the USA swim team for six months. He spent days alone in his room afterward, not eating and barely sleeping. “I didn’t want to be alive,” he shared with TODAY Magazine. This time finally showed Phelps that he wasn’t alright.
The record-winning swimmer described how nervous he felt going into his first day of treatment, but is now incredibly grateful he began talking about his feelings. "I was very good at compartmentalizing things and stuffing things away that I didn't want to talk about,” Phelps told CNN political commentator Daniel Axelrod. But once he started letting out those emotions, everything changed. He has since learned to watch out for “red flags,” and to reach out for help when they show up. He especially credits his mom as being a rock for him during tough times.
Michael Phelps has made a lot of progress on the long road to recovery. “You know, I think I'm now finally to the point where I can look at myself in the mirror and like who I see," he told TODAY. Not only has therapy improved his mental state, but Phelps believes it has made him a better person as well. His communication skills have improved all-around, which he says has made him more approachable. From his new position of healing, the Olympian is determined to share his story and give others hope for better things to come. Phelps has embraced his new role as a mental health advocate and commends other athletes that are doing the same.
Last year, Michael Phelps joined the board of Medibio, a mental health technology company, and appeared in the IndieFlix Original “Angst,” a documentary that aims to spread awareness of anxiety disorders. This summer, Phelps took a break from his usual swimming-related tweets to advertise Talkspace, a counseling app that strives to make therapy more accessible. “The world knows me as a 28-time medalist,” Phelps tweeted. “But for me, sometimes my greatest accomplishment was getting out of bed. … Working with a therapist was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.”