Most of us know Olympic athlete Michael Phelps for his record-breaking victories in the pool. Now, though, the 31-year-old swimmer is asking us to see him as someone who is "human" and vulnerable, too: At an event in honor of National Children's Mental Health Day last week, Phelps opened up about his experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts, and therapy.
During his speech at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-hosted event, Phelps revealed that he struggled with his mental health at three separate points following his returns home from the Olympics, USA Today reports. He had been ignoring his mental health issues for some time before that, he said, but he finally hit rock bottom.
"For the longest time, I was really good at compartmentalizing things and just pushing them deeper and deeper so I never had to deal with them," he said. "That brought me to a point in my life where I found myself at an all-time low."
And for Phelps, that low involved thinking about suicide, which terrified him.
For me, getting to an all-time low where I didn't want to be alive anymore - that's scary as hell.
"For me, getting to an all-time low where I didn't want to be alive anymore - that's scary as hell," he said. "Thinking about taking your own life - I remember sitting in my room for four or five days not wanting to be alive, not talking to anybody."
That was when the swimmer realized he couldn't do it alone any longer, he said. He sought out professional help, began treatment, and reached out to family and friends who were willing to listen. He said that asking for help is what made things finally start to change for the better, and now, he's encouraging others to do the same.
"I want people to understand that there are times that you are going to have to reach out," he explained. "I truly encourage everybody to ask for help or to reach out to somebody you trust just to talk and to be there for others in a time of need."
Phelps' close friend and fellow Olympic swimmer, Allison Schmitt, also spoke at the event, sharing her own experiences with depression and therapy. "Mental illness is something you deal with every day ... It's something you have and you live with the rest of your life. Learning ways to cope with it - learning ways to live with it - is what we do," she said.
[h/t USA Today]