Champion Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has publicly come forward to reveal his ongoing battle with depression and anxiety in the hopes that he can help others suffering from these disorders as well.
This week, 33-year-old Phelps, regarded as the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, spoke out about his personal experience with depression at the TalkSpace Conference: Mental Health & Young Americans, Men's Health reported.
Talkspace is an online counseling service that pairs users to a variety of different therapists specializing in various personal issues, from mental disorders to marriage counseling. Phelps is a shareholder with the service, and also serves on the advisory board as well as recently featuring in one of their commercials as a spokesperson. He also recently revealed on the Today show that he personally receives counseling from the service as well.
At the New York City conference, the swimmer stood up in front of the audience and explained his coming forward is in an effort to help save lives, which he said is "way bigger than ever winning any gold medals." To help fight the stigma surrounding mental health and receiving help, Phelps is encouraging anyone suffering from mental disorders to talk about their own struggles and to understand that needing help is not a sign of weakness.
"It's OK not to be OK," Phelps said.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects about 40 million Americans over the age of 18, and while these disorders are treatable, less than 40% of sufferers actually receive treatment. Moreover, it's not uncommon for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder to also be diagnosed with depression.
A 2015 study out of the American Psychological Association reported that the suicide rate among American men is about four times higher than among women, and while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are actually more likely to succeed.
During the conference, Phelps described his own battle with the disorders and explained the moment when he first sought help. In October of 2014, around the same time he was arrested for his second DUI, Phelps spent five days locked inside of his room, contemplating committing suicide. At this point, he said he knew something needed to happen fast.
The Talkspace website features Phelps' story in which he describes his mental state at this moment in his life: "I realized I am the strongest person I know, but I felt like the weakest." Although he initially hated therapy, he credits this as having saved his life and given him the tools and insight to manage his depression.
In an interview with Men's Health, Phelps admitted, "I'm constantly learning, but I'm always constantly struggling. I struggle more than people I know. I just need to be prepared and handle it." He went on to explain the months of October and November are the worst out of the year for him because he becomes dark and moody and more susceptible to negative comments. In the same interview, he revealed he was experiencing such emotions during the New York City conference which made him feel like he was "about to blow."
In order to combat these anxious and depressive symptoms, Phelps said he begins each day with a 5 a.m. workout before his two children wake up, and he also journals to reflect on his emotions. Additionally, every time he passes through a doorway he recites a personal affirmation which can either be "I deserve love" or "I can handle love."
"You believe the things you tell yourself," he said. "We deserve to be happy."
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.