The Olympic gold medalist explains how therapy helped him accept his anxiety and depression, which set him on the right track to improving his mental health.
Michael Phelps exercises every day in his home gym. The most decorated American Olympian ever works out in his home gym every day.
“Throughout my career, I had a group of people around that was paying attention to my physical well-being. There were 10 people who could help me get stronger if I needed it. Phelps said that mentally, it wasn’t true.
After years of suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and other mental disorders, he decided to prioritize his mental and physical health.
Phelps, who had won six gold and two silver medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said that he felt the first “post-Olympic depression”.
“[You] put in so much effort for four years to reach that point. Then it feels like you’re at the top of the mountain. You’re wondering what the heck I’m supposed to do. Where is it I should go? He said, “Who am I?”
After a brief break, he returned to training immediately after the 2004 Olympics. He went on to compete at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Phelps said that she had “sort of compartmentalized these feelings” until they decided to reappear over time. This allowed her to gain a better understanding about who and what she does and why.
His push for self-reflection, self-awareness and self-awareness did not occur until 2014, when he was given his second DUI.
He explained that he felt “dead” and felt like he was not worthy of living.
Phelps spent several days in his bedroom contemplating his next move, even though he was deeply depressed.
He said, “I decided then that it was time for me to take a step and try to find another route, a new path.”
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Therapy is possible
Phelps was admitted to an inpatient treatment center for 45 days in 2014.
“I continued the therapy I received in my treatment center as soon as I was out. It was scary and frightening for me when it first started. I didn’t know what to expect. That was the point where vulnerability came in, Phelps stated.
He felt mentally better after he left the facility.
“I felt like a person… I was able to love myself and accept the people I saw. He said that for a long period I thought I was a swimmer, not a person. It was difficult to find out more about myself, my work, and why I do what I do through treatment and unpacking all of the crap I had in me.
Erica Wickett is a psychotherapist at BetterMynd. She said that professional help is essential for those who struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Clients who are struggling with these issues often feel that their lives don’t make sense. This can be very isolating, and clients often need help to make sense of the world again.
Wickett said that therapeutic spaces allow you to explore your feelings in a safe and supportive environment that promotes self-compassion.
Although therapy helped Phelps gain an understanding of himself, and gave him tools to manage his mental health, it is an ongoing process to remain mentally healthy.
My anxiety and depression will not go away. I will never be able snap my fingers and tell it to stop. It is a part of me. It’s a part of my soul. He said that it will always be a part me.”
Deborah Serani, PsyD psychologist, Adelphi University professor of psychology, stated that serious mental conditions such as depression and anxiety can’t be willed away with lifestyle changes.
Mental health is not a choice. She explained to Healthline that depression and anxiety are neurobiological diseases that require professional evaluation, targeted treatment, as well as chronic management.
Phelps stated that managing his mental health takes flexibility. Phelps compared being mentally strong to becoming the best swimmer.
“There was no way I could have won eight gold medals in my career. It was a lot of trial and error. He said that while I can’t guarantee to know all the answers today, I have to forgive myself for not being able to learn and sometimes it is difficult. “[I]t is my goal to be perfect, and I will continue to learn, but sometimes that’s impossible.”
He relies on self-care measures such as journaling, therapy, and exercise to cope. However, he recognizes that what works today may not work tomorrow.
Phelps, a world-renowned Olympian is raising awareness about mental health around the globe. He is also breaking down unique barriers as a man.
“I can speak from the perspective of an athlete, both as a male and female athlete. He said that if I spoke up in my career, it would be a sign that I was weak. We’re giving our competitors an edge in sports and basically in battle.
He believes that the stigma remains, but the pandemic has normalized the conversation.
“I believe [the stigma] has dropped a bit, and it’s amazing to see that,” Phelps said. Phelps stated that it was amazing to hear people sharing their journeys and their stories.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation anxiety and depression tripled in the United States during the pandemic.
Studies have shown that COVID-19 has caused a sudden drop in stigma for mental illness. Serani stated that it is the younger generation of teenagers who are driving this change.
“Teens, and young adults, are the most sought-after for mental health therapy during COVID.” She said that they are also discussing stigma, therapy and mental health with one another in schools and across social media.
This may be a silver lining to the pandemic. Lauren Amigo at BetterMynd is a licensed art therapist and said that the main focus of the pandemic was still on physical health. She pointed out all the flyers, emails and news interviews about COVID-19, as well as articles about staying physically healthy.
“But I don’t recall any of it being focused on mental health. Amigo stated that while I was grateful for the increased awareness of mental health, he believes that more could be done.
Phelps plans to do more.
He is currently collaborating with Talkspace to launch The Permission Slip Campaign, which encourages people to sign a symbolic “mental well-being permission slip” to take responsibility for their mental health.
“Look at the past two, plus two years. “When I first saw this campaign, I thought that I needed to be more relaxed. I tend to stress out and want everything to be perfect. But in reality, it’s impossible,” he stated. It’s powerful to see such a campaign because it allows us to express ourselves in a safe and secure way.
Talkspace partnered with Phelps in 2018 and he stated that his primary mission was to raise awareness about mental health, and to help others find healing.
“I hate to see the suicide rate rise more and more. Phelps said that he hates seeing someone die by suicide. “[And] I also know…there’s light at the other end of the tunnel,” said Phelps.