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Michael Phelps: Opening up about depression 'better than winning a gold medal'

| Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, 9:48 a.m.
Olympic medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was among the advocates speaking at The Kennedy Forum National Summit On Mental Health Equity And Justice In Chicago at the Chicago Hilton and Tower Hotel on January 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Getty Images for Kennedy Forum
Olympic medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was among the advocates speaking at The Kennedy Forum National Summit On Mental Health Equity And Justice In Chicago at the Chicago Hilton and Tower Hotel on January 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

He's won 23 Olympic gold medals — a record that may never be beaten.

But swimming great Michael Phelps told a Chicago audience thie week that was nothing compared with the satisfaction he got from opening up about and seeking help for his depression.

Speaking at a Kennedy Forum breakfast about mental health at the Hilton Chicago, Phelps, 32, spoke about how his life had changed since he revealed in August that he had battled suicidal thoughts after his second DUI arrest in 2014.

"Since that day it's been some of the most enjoyable living I've ever had," Phelps said, adding that the messages of support from families dealing with mental health issues had given him "feelings and emotions ... that are a light-year better than winning a gold medal, because you have a chance to save a life, and that's way more powerful."

Phelps, who has quickly become a champion for mental health issues, said he had not even planned to open up about his inner turmoil when he spontaneously told a Sports Illustrated reporter about it last year.

But "I got to a point in my life where I was ready to seek help," he said. "People look at celebrities like they're something special, but I've had the same struggles as everybody else."

Phelps spoke onstage with David Axelrod, onetime senior adviser to then-President Barack Obama and current director of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. The Olympian, who was warmly received for opening up during the discussion, said the expectations placed on him were something "I carried for a long time" and that he had self-medicated with alcohol because "I was hiding, I was trying to run from myself."

On his first day of treatment, "I was shaking," he said, but now, "I'm not afraid of that ... it's made me 10 times stronger as a parent."

"It's OK to ask for help."

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