TOKYO – Michael Phelps is uniquely qualified when it comes to being a face at the Olympics and the effect that can have psychologically on an athlete.
The four-time Olympian battled anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts throughout his Olympic swimming career. Eventually, he overcame his mental health battle by seeking professional help.
The 28-time Olympic medalist has since been a huge advocate for mental health. In 2010, he launched the Michael Phelps Foundation, which teaches children to be healthy and active. He is also on the board of Medibio, a company focused on the diagnosis of mental illness.
When Phelps found out four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles withdrew from Tuesday’s gymnastics team competition in Tokyo with reference to mental health, it touched the former swimmer’s heart.
“It broke my heart. But also, if you look at it, mental health over the last 18 months is something people talk about, ”Phelps told NBC’s Mike Tirico.
MORE:Simone Biles does not participate in the gymnastics all-round final at the Olympics in Tokyo
NANCY ARMOR:Simone Biles’ decision to retire in team event at the Olympics sends strong message about
MIKE FREEMAN:Simone Biles did the right thing at the Olympics; she is allowed to protect herself
Similar to Phelps in previous Olympics, Biles walked into Tokyo with huge expectations. She is one of the faces at the Olympics in Tokyo and is the undisputed leader of the American women’s gymnastics team. Her withdrawal from the team competition sent shock waves around the world.
Competing without Biles, the American women’s team continued to finish second in the team final. The Russian Olympic Committee won gold and the British team finished third.
“I really feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure is not affecting me, but it’s damn hard sometimes, ”Biles said on Instagram after the gymnastics team’s competition. “The Olympics are no joke!”
Phelps explained why he can relate to Biles’ feelings. The pressure to be a gold medalist was also a huge burden for him.
“The Olympics are overwhelming. There are many emotions that go into it. I can talk about this for an hour. The easiest way for me to say this is that I think athletes and Olympic athletes in general need someone we can trust. Someone who can let us be ourselves, listen and let us become vulnerable. Someone who does not come is trying to fix us, ”Phelps said. “We have a lot of things and a lot of weight on our shoulders. It is challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all the expectations that are thrown at us.
“We are human, no one is perfect. It’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to go through ups and downs and emotional slides … I felt like I was carrying, as Simone (Biles) said, the weight of the world on my shoulders. It’s a tough situation. ”
Phelps said he hopes all the awareness surrounding Biles’ exit from the team competition can serve as a teachable moment and raise mental health awareness.
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do. I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It’s so much bigger than we could ever imagine, ”Phelps said. “This is something that takes a lot of time, a lot of hard work and people who are willing to help.”