Michael Phelps started enjoying life after opening up about his ‘depression spells’

Michael Phelps started enjoying life after opening up about his ‘depression spells’

Millions of adolescents and teens across the world, at some point during their youth, strongly admire celebrities from all walks of life, particularly from entertainment and sports. Youngsters often consider these celebrities as infallible individuals or the epitome of perfection. What many adolescents may not realize is that famous personalities too, much like ordinary people, are vulnerable to physical and mental illnesses and emotional risks. Reluctant to open up previously, the recent years has seen various celebrities openly discuss their struggles with mental health conditions.

As far as celebrity achievements are concerned, few can emulate the success of champion swimmer Michael Phelps. With 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold, Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history. Add to that, a close-knit, happy family, soon to welcome a second baby, and it will seem impossible to believe that his is not the perfect life. Yet, mental illnesses have an uncanny ability to strike even the most accomplished of individuals, and Phelps also was not immune to them.

In late 2017, Phelps disclosed his mental health struggles. He admitted to battling “at least half a dozen depression spells,” particularly one which was so severe that he “didn’t want to be alive.” For several years, Phelps kept compartmentalizing the negative feelings building inside him. He came to a point where he could no longer feel the negative emotions and did not want to deal with them. Phelps reached a turning point in 2014 when he was arrested for driving under influence (DUI) for the second time and suspended by the USA Swimming, the national governing body for swimming in the U.S., for six months.

Depressive episodes tend to recur

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that although some people experience only a single depressive episode in their lifetime, most will experience recurring depressive episodes. In the absence of treatment, depressive episodes may last from a few months to several years. Even with treatment, there is a likelihood for depression to recur. Phelps has also battled depression and anxiety for several years, equating his struggle to “a journey down a long, long, long road.”

The well-known swimmer has also appeared in “Angst”, a documentary about anxiety and how it impacts children. In the documentary, Phelps disclosed being bullied as a kid and experiencing low self-worth even while he was excelling as a swimmer. He also avoided dealing with his negative emotions. “So I would shove it even further down so I wouldn’t have to deal with it, so I never had to talk about it,” he said. With the help of the documentary and the Michael Phelps Foundation, he hopes to help others, particularly children, to cope with their mental disorders.

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 3.1 million adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years (12.8 percent of the age group) had a past-year major depressive episode (MDE), and 2.2 million adolescents (9 percent) had a past-year MDE with severe impairments. Only 40.9 percent adolescents with a past-year MDE and 46.7 adolescents with a past-year MDE with severe impairments received treatment for depression.

Encouraging open dialogue can help reduce stigma and promote treatment

When celebrities seek help and talk about their struggles with mental illnesses, it encourages adolescents to do the same. It also helps in reducing the stigma surrounding mental disorders. Phelps still does not know why he suddenly decided to open up about his depression. What he does know, however, is that since doing so, it has “been so much easier to live and so much easier to enjoy life.” He wants to use his own example to emphasize that everyone experiences similar emotions and it is important to openly discuss them.

The recurring nature of depression makes it critical for teens to seek timely professional help. Youngsters should be reminded that they are not alone, and that parents, guardians, teachers and counselors are always there to help. Medicines, talk therapy, or a combination of both treatment modalities have proven to be effective treatments for mental disorders like depression.

If you know a teenage boy exhibiting symptoms of depression, White River Academy can help. Located in Delta, Utah, it is the leading therapeutic boarding school that offers treatment for various mental disorders, including depression in teens. Call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives to know more about depression in adolescence and how to deal with it.

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