Michael Phelps on suicide, mental health and self-care

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Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, now a father of three, says seeing the headlines about teenagers who have committed suicide scares him. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Relaxation is Yahoo Life’s wellness series where experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and Mental Healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Michael Phelps says he’s “obsessed” with his mental health, and for good reason. The 36-year-old former competitive swimmer has spoken openly about everything from contemplating suicide during his days as an Olympic athlete to his diagnosis of depression and ADHD in hopes of inspiring others to be more aware of their own mental health issues.

“Ups and downs? I go through them all the time and they come and go,” Phelps said. “It’s part of my everyday life, and I’m always trying to learn more about myself and also how to get through different situations.”

Phelps, who worked with an online therapy service Discussion area since 2018, has teamed up with the organization for May Mental Health Awareness Month, promoting its “authorization slip“, a program aimed at encouraging people to give themselves permission to focus on their mental health by writing down an area they can spend time working on.

“That little release form – as soon as I saw it I immediately wrote ‘sorry’ because it’s something I still have to work on,” Phelps, who lives in Arizona, told Yahoo. Life. “I need to be myself more. I need to take care of myself more often. These little things, when you write this – when you write something – it’s so so much more powerful than us can’t even imagine it.”

In fact, working to be his “true authentic self” has long been a priority for Phelps, who married former Miss California USA Nicole Johnson in 2016 and has three sons ages 2 to 6. “I always say if my glass isn’t completely full, how am I supposed to fill other people’s?” said Phelps. “I have a wife. I have three children. It’s my job to find ways every day to be my best self.”

Among his mantras for staying focused on filling his own cup are “It’s okay not to be okay” and “Be you”, the latter of which he wears on a bracelet as a constant reminder. “It’s about being your best self,” he says. “I am who I am. I’m not going to change who I am, so it’s about finding ways to love myself more.”

“For a long time I thought of myself as an athlete – a swimmer, not a human,” he continues. “Now to be able to look in the mirror and not just see a kid wearing goggles and a swimming cap and putting on a bathing suit, but seeing a father and a husband and a person, that transformation has been amazing.”

Phelps also credits some of his fellow athletes with inspiring him to portray himself as the best version of himself.

“I got to know Kevin Love and Naomi Osaka. I’ve known Simone Biles for a long time,” he says. “Some of these athletes and celebrities who have spoken about their own journeys, for me, it’s so cool and amazing to watch because, one, I know how hard it is and how difficult it is, and I also know how liberating it is to be able to do it your own way.”

Phelps hopes sharing her story will “save more lives”, especially those of young people.

“As a parent, it’s scary,” Phelps says. “I read about suicides almost every day. We just had two high school kids from a local school here who committed suicide a few weeks ago and as a dad, that scares me.”

“I just want to be able to give them the tools to understand that it’s okay to talk about a struggle or a problem,” he explains. “From firsthand experience, I was someone who stuffed things and compartmentalized for much of my life and that extra weight should never be on anyone’s shoulders.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line on 741741.

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