You might not think that the most decorated Olympic athlete in history would deal with the blues, but mental illness does not discriminate based on who you are how successful your life has been. People with depression – regardless of their station in life – suffer from a wide range of serious, sometimes debilitating issues. Phelps is using his fame and his platform to help speak up for fellow athletes who, like him, may be dealing with depression and do not have anywhere to turn. Mental health professionals, such as those that provide the online therapy services at Talkspace, note how important it is for people to speak on behalf of those who do not necessarily have as strong of a voice.
This is a time in which mental health struggles in athletics are becoming a topic of discussion – something that therapists at Talkspace agree is a vital first step towards taking a healthier and more proactive approach to mental health treatment. Phelps recently called out the U.S. Olympic Committee, urging them to address mental health issues plaguing their athletes. Recently NBA stars and other former Olympians have come out to share the stories of their struggle with anxiety, depression, as well as suicidal thoughts.
Phelps, who himself suffers from depression, was able to bring a personal element to his call to help athletes. He noted that he “straight wanted to die” at certain points in his career, highlighting the struggle that people with depression face. And fame and success have little bearing on whether or not someone feels this way. In fact, for people who are really successful, feelings of depression can be worse as it can be hard to get sympathy and understanding from other people. Therapists at Talkspace applaud these athletes for coming out with their stories and Phelps’s effort to draw attention to a silent problem facing countless athletes at all levels of competition.
Phelps recently went on a podcast to discuss his mental health issues and the struggles facing other athletes, saying that he does not believe that the U.S. Olympic Committee does enough to help athletes struggling with depression or other mental health issues. He described that during his career, he went through numerous bouts of depression, even putting himself in danger in the process, and does not want to see that happen to other athletes. Life after the Olympics, no longer dealing with the requirements of a rigorous training schedule, leaves many athletes at a loss, and they struggle to transition to life without high-level competition. In Phelps’s opinion, the USOC needs to do more to help athletes during the transition to life after their Olympic career.
Phelps talked about feeling suicidal, receiving two DUIs, and admitting that he wanted to die. Talkspace therapists note that Phelps’ experience is not an uncommon one for those who suffer from clinical depression. Sharing his experience is helpful in that it shows others that they are not alone and that even the people you would least expect to deal with doubt and depression – because of their status or station in life – are just as likely as you to be silently dealing with a debilitating condition. Oftentimes, the problem only becomes readily apparent when people do as Phelps did and start engaging in risky and dangerous behavior. Phelps went to rehab in Arizona after hitting a low point in his life and made it his mission to ensure that other athletes get the help they need.
It can be incredibly disorienting to come home to no routine or apparent purpose after dedicating all your efforts to training. Such difficulty in transitioning is an issue that many athletes deal with, and too often, they are not given the help or resources needed to cope with what they are facing. Therapists at Talkspace agree with Phelps that more needs to be done to ensure that athletes at all levels have access to the mental health care they need so they can live a good life in spite of their struggles, rather than succumbing to risky behaviors.
Therapists at Talkspace note that many former athletes – whether at the professional, collegiate, or Olympic level – have a hard time transitioning to “regular life” after the rigor of their career. Hitting that career peak at such an early time in one’s life – like athletes often do – has a way of coloring the rest of life and leaving what’s left feeling lackluster in comparison. Without a good plan for transitioning to a meaningful life after sports, many suffer like Phelps did, with severe depression, feeling cast adrift with nowhere to turn.
Phelps currently runs a foundation that is dedicated to athletes and also improving their mental health and the USOC offers a Pivot program to help athletes through the process of retirement.