Michael Phelps, swimming legend, spoke openly about the depression he suffered during his career and highlighted the importance for athletes to talk about mental health: “It saves lives”.
The American, the highest medal winner in the history of the Olympic Games (23 gold medals and 28 in total), gave a talk at the World Business Forum 2023 in Madrid (Spain) and acknowledged that in his worst moments he even thought of taking his own life.
“I thought about committing suicide and that’s scary. There is light behind the tunnel and I want to encourage people to fight. Talking about mental health has saved my life,” the Baltimore Shark excitedly admitted to managers of different companies.
At just 15 years old, Phelps played his first Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 and four years later, in Athens, he would begin his enormous harvest by winning eight medals (six gold and two bronze). And along with the achievements and awards, he began to suffer from depression.
“I hit rock bottom without talking to anyone, in 2008 I fell into the same spiral,” Phelps acknowledged at the Wobi Congress. In the midst of these mental problems, which the swimmer himself confessed to hiding to prevent it from becoming “a sign of weakness for his rivals”, he made history in Beijing 2008 by winning eight gold medals and surpassing the record of seven held by fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz since Munich 1972.
Phelps left London 2012 as the top medal winner at the Olympic Games (he accumulated 22) and announced his retirement. A couple of years later, he would go through one of the worst moments of his life. “In 2014 I had another (fall). I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I decided to go to a rehabilitation center to continue living. I spent the worst 45 days of my life there. I felt vulnerable for the first time. I came in with a shield and I couldn’t communicate. After three days, I let my guard down. Now I can look in the mirror and see a person, not someone wearing a hat and sunglasses. I’m not afraid to say anything anymore,” he confessed.
Phelps returned from retirement in Rio 2016 to close his historic career with his last five Olympic titles and one more silver. After leaving the pool, the man from Baltimore, now 38 years old, decided to travel around the world to tell his story and help athletes: “Too many Olympic athletes have committed suicide, I don’t want to lose just one more member of my Olympic family.”
“Hopefully people can fight like me. One in four people has a mental health problem. How is it possible that they don’t talk? Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles... They raised their voices and shared their journey. And that saves lives,” Phelps closed.