Michael Phelps Shares His Battle With Depression

Anyone going through depression can feel like they’re weak and alone. Yet some of the strongest, highest-performing, leading males in the world have gone through anxiety and depression. 

There is no better example of this than Michael Phelps. He is a swimmer who has won 28 Olympic medals (23 gold) making him the most successful Olympic athlete of all time and a big-time celebrity. On top of this, he is tall, super fit, good-looking charismatic and has a beautiful wife and son.

And yet Michael Phelps struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Most surprisingly to many people, he was the most depressed after each time that he won at the Olympics. Thankfully, Michale has since shared openly his story with depression to help the rest of us learn how to manage our depression better.

Sean Galla

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder, and mental health advocate, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Why we felt compelled to share these videos on Michael Phelps:

  • Because he is the definition of a successful, leading man
  • Seeing big, strong, successful men share about their depression kills the stigma that depression is a weakness for men
  • Watching him talk about his depression made mine easier knowing that I wasn’t alone
  • He can articulate his depression and how he manages it very well
  • Phelps has taken his darkest adversity, and turned it into a positive, helping others through mental health challenges

How bad was Michael Phelps’ depression?

Michael has been quoted saying that he’s through at least six major depressive periods throughout his life. He especially suffered depression after winning the Olympics multiple times.

He was always very driven and desired more success. Even when he won his final gold medal, he was upset that he didn’t get his 40th world record during the swim. Phelps said that he always desired to push his capacity to see what he could accomplish at his max.

Micheal shared in an interview, that after every Olympics he attended he fell into depression, sometimes becoming reclusive and have many suicidal thoughts.

After each big Olympic victory, including his wins at the ’04, ’08, and ’12 Olympic games. Phelp’s 2012 Olympics were the worst for Phelps. He hated swimming and wanted to end his life. He spent five days locked in his bedroom without food, sleep or communication with loved ones. He took his loved ones for granted. He just wanted it to end.

So it was at 33 years old when Mr. Phelps hit a point where he decided he needed some support for his depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The best way to manage depression

Michael shared that the reason the suicide rates are going up, especially for men, is because guys are afraid to talk and open up about what they’re really feeling and experiencing. Once Phelps started to share his feelings, life became a lot easier for him. It helped him learn how to control his emotions. After his first few depression counseling sessions, Phelps said: “Why didn’t I do that ten years ago?”

 

And along with the depression, Phelps also had to share and better understand his insecurities about his performance, anxiety, substance abuse and shame for his spinning out of control with depression. This all leading to dramatic events like multiple driving DUIs for Phelps.

How Michael Phelps now thinks about depression

Michael had hoped that depression would be a quick thing to get through once he started talking to a therapist. However, he learned that depression is often an ongoing challenge that he will face for years to come, potentially for the rest of his life.

Phelps said that this is why he relies heavily on therapy because no matter what life throws at him or when he feels depressed, he will have someone there to talk through it with, making things easier.

Strong men like Michael Phelps show their emotions

In high-level athletics, there is an attitude that to be successful you shouldn’t have any mental or emotional challenges. You’re supposed to be strong no matter what and never need help. People go as far as encouraging you to be macho and just ignore your feelings.

Phelps now realizes that this is terribly wrong, super damaging to men and is contributing to the high male suicide rate. Phelps said he is incredibly grateful that he learned to ask for help and continues to do so regularly.

Michael made something meaningful from his darkest hour

Phelps could have kept this all private and never shared it publicly. But he saw an opportunity to help others with the lessons he learned along his journey with depression.

And most advertises or tough times – even full-on traumatic tragedies – will produce some positives at the end of the day. Phelps is an example of how you can find the opportunity through your obstacle and create something meaningful for yourself that benefits the world.

We’d like to thank Michael Phelps for sharing his depression journey with the world. We are sure it has helped a lot of good men out there navigate their own bouts of depression.

Like Phelps, we highly recommend that if you are experiencing depression, that you reach out for support. Seek the advice of a professional counselor, therapist or men’s group.

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