Michael Phelps says he considered taking his own life on numerous occasions at the height of his career.
Michael Phelps is almost a mythical figure at this point. He’s the most decorated Olympian of all time. He’s won 28 medals in swimming, 23 of them gold. But he’s just as human as the rest of us, and he’s experienced serious bouts of depression in his life. And he revealed to CNN this week that at one point, he even contemplated suicide.
Phelps, who announced his retirement after London 2012 before returning to the sport two years later, said he realised the extent of his problems after the Games when he locked himself in his bedroom for “three to five days”.
He went on to win five gold medals and one silver in Rio before again retiring. He said the emotions of overcoming his mental health issues were far greater than those from winning his Olympic titles.
Speaking at the Kennedy Forum on mental health in Chicago, Phelps said that those moments and emotions for him were ‘light years’ better than winning the Olympic gold medal.
“I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore”
“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.”
“I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore, didn’t want to be alive anymore,” he said.
“…Life became easy [after going for the treatments and beginning to talk about his feelings].” Phelps continued. “I said to myself so many times, ‘Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago?’ But, I wasn’t ready.”
“I was very good at compartmentalising things and stuffing things away that I didn’t want to talk about, I didn’t want to deal with, I didn’t want to bring up — I just never ever wanted to see those things,” he added.
“I think people actually finally understand it [mental illness] is real. People are talking about it and I think this is the only way that it can change. That’s the reason why suicide rates are going up — people are afraid to talk and open up.”
“Those moments and those feelings [of overcoming the depression] and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal,” said Phelps. “I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life.”