Olympian Michael Phelps has been very open about his mental health struggles in the past, and he’s now the narrator and executive producer of The Weight of Gold, which deals with athletes and mental health. Among the athletes who have spoken for this documentary include Shaun White, Lolo Jones, and Bode Miller, to name a few.
Reaching Out For Support
It shouldn’t be a surprise that athletes have had mental health issues; it’s a high pressure, high anxiety environment. What was surprising was that it was hard for even top athletes to get help.
As Phelps told USA Today, “We were all saying, ‘Nobody helps us’ and ‘We’re just products.’ Our stories are similar, our thoughts are similar, and I think that’s probably the most fascinating thing for me. Because I thought every sport is so different, every individual would be so different, yet there’s 15 to 20 of us in the film that goes completely against that statement.”
Making sure that athletes are in top physical shape was, of course, a top priority. But mental health was not a focus for many years.
As Phelps continues, “It breaks my heart because there are so many people who care so much about our physical well-being, but I never saw caring about our mental well-being. We’re products until we start competing, and until we are stopped from being treated like products, we’re not going to change the equation.”
Phelps Wants to Help
As USA Today continues, “Phelps estimates 80 percent of athletes persevere through some form of post-Olympic depression.” And indeed, coming down from such a huge high in life, it can be really tough to get back to a normal life. We’re all going to have to readjust once the virus is behind us, and who knows what that will be like, even if things get much better. (They say the most dangerous times to be in a depression is right when you’re going into one, and right as you’re coming out of one.)
As Phelps explained to People, “We’re just so lost” after the glory days. “I thought of myself as just a swimmer and not a human being.”
Coming Forward Four Years Ago
Michael Phelps first came forward about his mental health issues in 2016, and he told ESPN he’s been having trouble with the current pandemic like we all are. “The pandemic has been one of the scariest times I’ve been through,” he explained. “I’m thankful that my family and I are safe and healthy.”
Phelps still has good days and bad. “So many of us are fighting our mental health demons now more than ever…Somebody who doesn’t understand what people with anxiety or depression or post-traumatic stress disorder deal with has no idea.”
He realizes when he feels bad, “it’s important to try and take a step back. Take a deep breath. Go back to square one and ask yourself: Where [are] these emotions coming from? Why are you so angry? That’s something I’ve learned in treatment…When things get really bad, I literally give myself a timeout. I just have to remove myself…to reset, in a way.”
Ultimately, Phelps concluded, “There’s nothing to hide from. Nothing to be afraid of. The fight is only against yourself. Think about that the next time somebody asks [you a[ simple question: How are you?”