Michael Phelps Opens Up About Mental Health Struggles During the Pandemic

The decorated swimmer discusses his fears for Olympic athletes' mental health after Tokyo games were postponed.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
April 7, 2020

We first got to know swimmer Michael Phelps — the most decorated Olympian of all time — as an extraordinary athlete. But since retiring from the sport in 2016, he has used his platform to talk about mental health; specifically, what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety. Now, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak, Phelps is opening up again about the mental health challenges of life during the pandemic. 

In an April 6 interview with Hoda Kotb at the Today Show, Phelps discussed why looking after our mental health is more important than ever. “I’ll be the first one to admit, I’m someone that still struggles with depression and anxiety,” Phelps told Kotb. “I’ve had a day or two over the last three weeks when it has been difficult. I’m sure there are people out there who are going through the same exact thing.”

Phelps also addressed his concerns for athletes who have trained for years to get to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, only to have them postponed. “I really, really hope that we don’t see an increase in athlete suicide because of this,” he previously told NBC Sports. “Because the mental health component is, by far, the biggest thing here. This postponement is uncharted waters. We’ve never seen this before. It was the right decision, but it breaks my heart for the athletes.”  

For the past several years, Phelps has been an investor and spokesperson for the mobile therapy app Talkspace, becoming a vocal advocate for seeking mental health help when you need it. Based on his own experience, he advises that other people dealing with depression and anxiety right now get the mental health support they need: “[Getting help] was something that was very difficult for me to do and I can understand if somebody is going through that,” he told Kotb. “It’s something that changed my life, it’s something that saved my life. I still am myself reaching out for help. I still have a therapist that I talk to and they just help me be me.”

If you’re looking for someone to talk to, there are a number of online or app-based therapy services out there, where you can talk, text, or video chat with trained therapists who can help provide coping mechanisms for you during this difficult time, or just listen to what you’re going through right now. 

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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