Michael Phelps knows firsthand that there’s value in seeking help for your mental health ― and now he’s hoping his story encourages others to do the same.
The swimming champion opened up about living with depression in an interview with CNN this week, saying there was a point following the 2012 Olympics where he “didn’t want to be alive.” Phelps said he felt like he had to hide what he was going through, and he doesn’t want others to feel the same.
“It’s a dark, dark road sometimes, and you just want to make sure you are staying open,” Phelps said. “I’m very comfortable talking to my wife, I’m comfortable talking with a therapist ... but in the beginning, I wasn’t.”
Phelps became a spokesperson for the online therapy program Talkspace earlier this year as a way to motivate others to try therapy. He told CNN that the process of talking to a mental health professional helped him manage his depression and figure out more about himself.
“I didn’t want to see a therapist in the beginning, but once I did I found that I felt better and I was healthier, I was learning so much more about myself that I didn’t know,” he said.
“I didn’t want to see a therapist in the beginning but once I did I found that I felt better and I was healthier, I was learning so much more about myself that I didn’t know.”
The swimmer’s openness around his depression is strongly needed. An estimated one in five American adults will be affected by a mental health issue in a given year. Celebrity voices like Phelps’ can help erase negative attitudes around these (fairly common) conditions.
Public support surrounding mental health help is also vital. Research also shows that talking to a therapist can positively rewire your brain over time and help ease symptoms of illnesses like depression. Despite this, data suggests many people living with mental health conditions don’t seek support due to stigma.
Phelps explained that he wants everyone to understand that a mental health condition isn’t something to feel ashamed of.
“It’s OK to not be OK,” he said. “I was able to do some pretty incredible things in the swimming pool, and I struggled outside as well.”
Phelps said his ultimate goal is to help others who are also experiencing difficulties with their mental health.
“I’d like to make a difference. I’d like to be able to save a life if I can,” he said. “For me, that’s more important than winning gold medals.”