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  • Joey Udovich

Michael Phelps speaks out about mental health.

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

By: Joey Udovich

(Photo credit: Olympics, Above: Michael Phelps competing in a race.)

ROCKVILLE, Md — Michael Phelps is considered the greatest swimmer of all time, winning 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, 34 world championship medals and becoming the 2008 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year. One of his greatest feats, however, is his openness to speaking out about men’s mental health and his personal struggles. This men’s mental health month, we want to highlight some of the people who are paving the way to ending the stigma that prevents young men from speaking out and seeking help.

Growing up, I wanted to be just like Phelps. He was from the same state as me, we swam the same strokes and we even liked the same sports teams. He was also a winner, something that would go on to define his professional career and personal life. His consistent success in the pool caused people to view him as an untouchable icon. This was far from the truth. Throughout the 2010’s, Phelps would have to overcome mental health struggles and depression.

Phelps, in an interview with TODAY this January, detailed his struggles with depression, specifically in 2014, when he was at his lowest. “I was almost ashamed of the things I was going through and feeling,” he says. Phelps then states that, as a male athlete, he was taught to hide his feelings away, and that sharing them was a sign of weakness. It was only his decision to begin therapy that started his healing journey.

This was a far cry from how I viewed Phelps. I viewed him the way any young child would view a famous athlete, a larger-than-life figure that doesn't have the same problems as me. As a young man, I approached my mental well-being the same way Phelps did; just push it down and do not let anyone see you struggle. I rarely talked about how I felt with my parents, teachers, coaches and friends, fearing that they may view me differently. Though Phelps’ experience with mental health was more severe, we approached it the same way, the way that most young men, athlete or not, do.

Phelps’ talks about more than just therapy. He also talks about the importance of talking to your friends about your mental well-being. He says that he regularly checks up on his friends, many of which are parents like himself.

Phelps’ admission that he attends therapy and actively works to maintain his mental well-being is something that I find admirable. His ability to talk about mental health inspired me to approach mental health differently. I started opening up to my friends about how I felt, which led to talking about my mental well-being to my parents. Though Phelps wasn’t the only reason for this change, he certainly helped me realize a change was needed.

Phelps is not the only athlete raising awareness. Basketball stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love both speak out about men’s mental health, as well as football star Bobby Wagner. As these athletes continue to speak about their personal stories dealing with mental health, it makes it easier for young men to do the same. These athletes are positive influences on the mental health community, demonstrating that men in traditionally masculine roles can talk about this kind of stuff freely.

Phelps’ final piece of advice for young men is to “go to therapy.” While simple, this powerful piece of advice, coming from such an influential figure, will hopefully inspire young men to understand the importance of mental health and seek help. Men like Phelps are breaking the stigma surrounding men’s mental health by speaking about their experiences, something I think we can all benefit from doing.

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