Michael Phelps Considered Taking His Own Life. Here’s How His Struggle Could Help Others.

“It’s OK to not be OK.”

Trigger warning: This article contains sensitive material relating to depression and suicidal thoughts.

For Michael Phelps, getting a grip on depression, overcoming suicidal thoughts, and helping others who might experience either one of those things, is better than having won 28 Olympic medals. In a revealing new interview, the beloved U.S. swimmer gets real about ups and downs he has faced, proving that mental health is an important thing.


When it comes to being a champion, the 32-year-old called that part "pretty easy," and said "it's hard work, dedication, [and] not giving up." During that interview, which took place at a conference for health advocacy group The Kennedy Forum in Chicago earlier this week and was conducted by CNN's David Axelrod, also touched on how constantly trying to push harder could lead to anxiety and spiral from there. He added: "I was always hungry, hungry, and I wanted more. I wanted to push myself really to see what my max was."

"You do contemplate suicide. Really after every Olympics, I think I fell into a major state of depression," Phelps said, explaining that emotional pattern of thinking "that just wasn't right" would pop up at "a certain time during every year," specifically toward the end of the year. 

Having come under fire for a DUI in 2004 and controversy over smoking from a bong, Phelps called moments like these times when he would run from "whatever it was I wanted to run from." This, for the Baltimore native, was "just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from."

In 2012, after winning four gold medals (having won six in 2004, eight in 2008, and five later in 2016), Phelps said he experienced the "hardest fall" and an "all-time low" when he "didn't want to be in the sport anymore … I didn't want to be alive anymore." This had Phelps experiencing suicidal thoughts while sitting alone in the bedroom, not eating, and barely sleeping.

This was when Phelps knew he needed help. He "needed to figure out what was going on" — and that's just what he did. While learning to talk about feelings, Phelps found that "life became easy." He also realized that he hadn't done this yet because he "wasn't ready" for it.

After working on himself, Phelps began to offer programs which implement stress management through the Michael Phelps Foundation — as well as with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He helps others realize "it's OK to not be OK," and is working to help destigmatize mental health.

"Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal," Phelps said about turning hard times into action to help others. "I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life."

If you or a loved one are in a crisis, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with a skilled, trained counselor who is ready to listen to you.

(H/T: CNN)


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