Michael Phelps' Wife Nicole Shares How She Talks to Their Kids About His Depression

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Elyse Dupre
·4 min read
Michael Phelps' Wife Nicole Shares How She Talks to Their Kids About His Depression
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Michael Phelps and his wife Nicole Phelps are sharing how they talk to their family about mental health.

The couple appeared on the Jan. 29 episode of Today and spoke about how they discuss the Olympian's battle with depression with their three sons: Boomer, 4; Beckett, 2 and Maverick, 16-months.

"I'm very vocal in making sure the kids are aware that maybe Michael is having a rough day, and that he didn't do something that made daddy feel this way," Nicole told Carson Daly. "It's daddy having his own stuff. 'Dad is having a really tough day today, and I need you to give him a little bit of space.'"

In fact, the parents said they've actually taught their kids strategies for how to cope with their feelings, including the "lion's breath."

"It's just a deep breath," Michael explained. "And at times, if they're feeling super high anxiety or if they're frustrated, you let out a gigantic roar. You know, there is a lot of roaring in the house at times."

Every Time Michael Phelps Has Won an Olympic Gold Medal

Earlier this month, Nicole spoke to Today Parents about how she was concerned for Michael after he experienced a deep depression around the time of Kobe Bryant's death.

"After Vanessa [Bryant] lost Kobe, all I could do was look at Michael and be like, ‘Can we please help you? Because if I lose you, I don't know what I'm gonna do,'" she said at the time. "Michael is the most amazing father and partner I could have ever asked for."

Looking back, the former Miss California told Carson she gets "choked up" thinking about the interview because the response has "been amazing."

"I've had people reach out to me from around the world," Nicole said. "People that had no idea Michael was struggling."

Michael Phelps, Nicole Johnson
Michael Phelps, Nicole Johnson

Michael has publicly discussed his depression before. But for years, nobody knew about the 28-time medal winner's battle. As he once put it, "I thought of myself as just a swimmer and not a human being."

Now, he and Nicole are continuing to be advocates for mental health and discuss the impact depression can have on the whole family. "We'd all have conversations with Michael, 'Oh, well, if you just do this,' and it's not fair to him because there's not a fix," she said. "I keep reminding Michael that I'm not here to judge him. I'm here to support him. I'm here to love him. I'm not going to shame him. I'm not going to say, 'You can't feel that way.' It's just making sure I'm there."

During the interview, Michael talked about the importance of having a place where he can find "peace and quiet." Today also noted he and Nicole exercise together to create a sense of routine and schedule one-on-one time.

"I'm happy that I have another training partner to join me through those challenging, brutal days," the retired champion shared. "I think that's the one thing that has truly kept me sane."

And while the decorated athlete will always be proud of his time in the pool, he doesn't consider it his greatest accomplishment. "It's part of being a dad," Michael said when asked to list his top achievement. "Nicole said something to me the other day about I've gotten better with each kid, more patience, so you will, with each kid. You know, with everything growing up, you know the kind of lack thereof, I want to make sure I'm always there. Sometimes I'm hard on myself about that—harder than I should be. But that's why I am who I am."

And even though he considers his swimming history a "piece" of his identity, he said it's not his entire identity. When asked to describe Michael Phelps today, the gold medalist said it depends on the day.

"Why do people still only see me as a swimmer?" he asked. "I look at myself as a dad of three, a husband, somebody who is trying to do whatever I can to prevent as many suicides and talk about mental health. Because it is something that's real in my life, and it's real every day."

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family).