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What We Can Learn From Olympians Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt About Asking for Help


Olympians Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt are stepping out of the pool and into the spotlight to share their experiences living with mental illness. On Thursday, both Phelps and Schmitt were awarded special recognition awards at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day event. The pair used the opportunity to speak candidly about how mental illness has affected them.

“For me, for so long, I was so afraid to ever ask for help and I found myself at a very low dark place and I was finally able to realize that I needed help,” Phelps, who grew up with ADHD and depression, said in a press call. “Finally I understood I cannot do it alone and for me, I needed somebody else to help me go through some of the hard times I was going through.”

“I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed for months when I was going to see a psychologist,” Schmitt shared. “There’s such a negative stigma around it, and it took until a traumatic event, my cousin losing her life to suicide, for me to finally accept that it’s OK to not be OK.”

In addition to being friends outside of the pool, Phelps and Schmitt have helped each other through periods of mental illness.

“I’ll never forget that day when Allison called me,” Phelps shared. “I saw how Allison was and from that point on I encouraged her to see somebody. For me, going through some of the events I went through in my life and some of the challenges I had in my life, I was able to start seeing somebody. For me, there were days of course where I didn’t ‘want to go,’ but you know what, I knew that if I went, and when I went, every time I came out of that office, I felt so much better.”

For both athletes, a turning point in their lives came after realizing it’s OK to ask for help. “I think a lot of people have this thought that if you ask for help it’s a sign of weakness,” Phelps said, adding:

For me, at one point, I was even afraid to ask my friend to give me a ride to the pool, or a ride to the grocery store. I think the biggest thing was I didn’t want to get turned down. If somebody says no, they just can’t do it at that time. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be there to support you or help you. To get over that was a huge step in my life.

“There is help out there. There is hope to getting better,” Schmitt added.