CHICAGO: Olympian Michael Phelps said he tried to take his life after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics.
"You do contemplate suicide," said the winner of 28 medals at the fourth annual conference of the Kennedy Forum, a behavioural health advocacy group. “Really, after every Olympics, I think I fell into a major state of depression,” he said.
Phelps had tasted defeat at his first Olympics in Sydney 2000. The bitter experience helped him break his first world record when he clinched his first gold at the Athens Olympic Games at the age of 19. But the hunger for more wins took a toll on his mental wellbeing.
Phelps noticed a pattern of emotion "that just wasn't right" at "a certain time during every year," around the beginning of October or November, he said in an online CNN article published on Jan 20.
The 32-year-old swimmer said his first depression spell was in 2004. It was also the same year Phelps was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol - and another in 2014.
After taking home eight gold medals in 2008, photos of him smoking from a bong emerged. Drugs were a way of running from "whatever it was I wanted to run from," he said on CNN. "It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from."
He finally sought help in 2012 after what he described was an "all-time low" that had him sitting alone for "three to five days" in his bedroom, not eating, barely sleeping and "just not wanting to be alive," he said.
Phelps said once he began to talk about his feelings, “life became easy”. "I said to myself so many times: Why didn't I do this 10 years ago? But, I wasn't ready," he said.
"I was very good at compartmentalising things and stuffing things away that I didn't want to talk about, I didn't want to deal with, I didn't want to bring up - I just never ever wanted to see those things," he said.
To combat the stigma of mental illness, the Michael Phelps Foundation that promotes healthy, active lives for children through swimming also offers stress management programmes.
"Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal," said Phelps.
"I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life."