Overcoming depression was far more challenging than all the other great feats in his life, according to US swimming legend Michael Phelps.
“I had to face some sort of depression some four years ago. I had this feeling that being a male sports personality, it is not allowed to show any sign of weakness. “Then, with professional help to overcome my depression, I knew that it is OK not to be OK,” Phelps told Gulf Times during an interaction at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2018 at Qatar National Convention Centre yesterday.
“This kind of depression happened especially after a major competition such as Olympics because you worked so hard to get to that point. The thought of where do you go next occurred to me over and over again. As I was immersed in swimming all the time, I had not learned much about life. I had to deal with the realities on life later, which might have been a major issue,” he continued.
Phelps addressed a plenary session on the second day of WISH and said, “I enjoyed great happiness in my success in the swimming pool, winning all the gold medals, and in 2014 it all got wrong. My depression did overpower me and I kept myself shut out from others.
Having reached that stage, I decided to ask for professional help and that is what saved my life. “In the end, I realised that I have to sit down with the therapist and talk. It was not easy for me but was necessary. The decision I made for seeking professional help saved my life and that is why I am here today. When I started taking about my mental health problems with the therapist, I came to know the real challenges,” he explained. Presenting his struggle with anxiety and depression in front of more than 2,000 attendees, Phelps said when depression hits it can be tiring, making even getting out of bed an achievement.
He said sometimes depression was stronger than him, but in the end he realised that he must seek professional help and open up about his struggle to feel better. “I am grateful for an opportunity to talk about anxiety and depression and helping overcome the stigma associated with the disorder. By sharing my journey, I want those who suffer from this disorder that they are not alone. The medals I won are very special to me but winning an Olympic gold medal was easier than fighting depression,” noted Phelps.
During a question-and-answer session, moderated by BBC presenter Mishal Husain, Phelps spoke in detail about his struggle with anxiety and depression.
He strongly urged people suffering from mental health problems to seek support from family, friends and professionals.
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