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- Michael Phelps spoke with David Axelrod about his battle with depression that came after competing in the Olympics.
- Phelps revealed that his depression drove him to thoughts of suicide during a particularly rough stretch following the 2012 games.
- Phelps hopes that opening up about his experience he can help others who are holding on to feelings of depression rather than speaking openly about the disease.
Michael Phelps opened up about his depression and thoughts of suicide while speaking at a mental health conference in Chicago this week.
In an interview with CNN’s David Axelrod, Phelps spoke candidly about not only his triumphs as an Olympian, but the difficult days that would often follow the event.
“You do contemplate suicide,” said Phelps, recounting some of the darker moments of his depression.
The talk began with discussion of Phelps’ drive – the drive that helped him become the most decorated Olympian in history, with 28 medals to his name through five runs at the Summer Olympics. After failing to medal in Sydney in 2000, Phelps pushed himself to the limits to be better, and was rewarded for his efforts with six gold medals four years later in Athens. But after the most successful run of his career, he began to struggle with his mental health.
“Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” said Phelps when asked to pinpoint when his trouble began. He noticed a pattern of emotion “that just wasn’t right” at “a certain time during every year,” around the beginning of October or November, he said. “I would say ’04 was probably the first depression spell I went through.”
Phelps believed that his worst struggles came after the 2012 games, saying “I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore … I didn’t want to be alive anymore.” He recalled spending days in his room, not eating, consumed by his depression, and then finally, getting help.
Since he began getting treatment for his depression, he has a much healthier relationship with his emotions.
Today he understands that “it’s OK to not be OK” and that mental illness “has a stigma around it and that’s something we still deal with every day,” said Phelps. “I think people actually finally understand it is real. People are talking about it and I think this is the only way that it can change.”
Phelps has since added stress management programs to the offerings of the Michael Phelps Foundation, and said that he hopes opening up on his relationship with depression can help others speak more openly about the disease, seek help, and save lives.