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Michael Phelps Opens Up About His Struggle With Depression

Michael Phelps may be the most decorated Olympian, but he too struggles with depression. Phelps talked about his experiences at the fourth annual Kennedy Forum last Tuesday.


“You do contemplate suicide,” Phelps said.

Phelps was interviewed at the conference by David Axelrod, senior political commentator for CNN. In the 20-minute talk, Phelps brought to light his fight against anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

“Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” Phelps said. “I would say ’04 was probably the first depression spell I went through.”

There was a huge controversy with Phelps being photographed in 2008 smoking from a bong, but that was just how Phelps dealt with what was happening.

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“It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from,” he said.

Phelps sought out help.

“I remember going to treatment my very first day,” Phelps said. “I was shaking, shaking because I was nervous about the change that was coming up. I needed to figure out what was going on.”

He has since moved on to implement stress management programs into his Michael Phelps Foundation and through his work at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Today, far too many people dealing with mental health and addiction challenges experience the justice system in lieu of justice itself,” the Kennedy Forum’s page said.

The Forum had the purpose this year to “advocate for the kind of justice struggling individuals and families deserve.”

“A life free from discrimination and stigma, the opportunity to overcome health challenges in pursuit of a fulfilling life, and the right to affordable healthcare that treats the whole person – body, brain and spirit,” the page read.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America ( ADAA) said on their website that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States 18 years and older ever year.

While the disorder is highly treatable, though, only 36.9 percent receive treatment, according to the ADAA.

Anxiety itself is a natural response. It’s beneficial in high-intensity situations, and it can keep us out of danger.

Anxiety disorder, on the other hand, can force people to avoid such situations. It becomes worse when someone’s life is also affected, meaning their job, school, and relationships can take a turn for the worse.

And anxiety comes in many different shapes and forms. This list includes: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In general, women are more likely than men to experience these disorders.

The ADAA said on its website that “many people with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring disorder or physical illness, which can make their symptoms worse and recovery more difficult.”

It’s also not uncommon to suffer from depression alongside anxiety disorder.

But people shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this.

“That’s the reason why suicide rates are going up,” Phelps said. “People are afraid to talk and open up.”

Header Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Monica Sager is a freelance writer from Clark University, where she is pursuing a double major in psychology and self-designed journalism with a minor in English. She wants to become an investigative journalist to combat and highlight humanitarian issues. Monica has previously been published in The Pottstown Mercury, The Week UK, Worcester Telegram and Gazette and even The Boston Globe. Read more of Monica’s previous work on her Twitter @MonicaSager3.
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