At the 2012 Olympics in London, the world recognized Michael Phelps as the unrivaled champion of the swimming pool.

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.


But behind closed doors, the American athlete says, he was wrestling with inner demons far away from the prying spotlight.

“I went in with no self-confidence, no self-love," Phelps said in a recent interview with NBC's "Dateline" of his time in London four years ago. “I think the biggest thing was, I thought of myself as just a swimmer, and nobody else.”

Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images.

The most decorated Olympian in history — the man who's won a record-breaking 18 gold medals in the swimming pool — says he had been struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse for a while. And nobody except his closest friends and family knew about it:

“100%, I was lost, pushing a lot people out of my life — people that I wanted and needed in my life. I was running and escaping from whatever it was I was running from.”

It took a life-changing run-in with the law in 2014 for Phelps to realize he needed help.

About a year and a half ago, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence — the second time he was charged with the offense. The arrest was a major wake-up call.

“I was [in] the lowest place I’ve ever been," he told "Dateline." "Honestly, I sort of, at one point, I just — I felt like I didn’t want to see another day. I felt like it should be over."

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Phelps checked himself into a rehab clinic in October 2014, where he says he cried himself to sleep the first several nights. But through treatment, Phelps was able to address many of the underlying issues affecting his health, including a turbulent relationship with his father dating back to childhood.

Today, as Phelps trains for the Olympics this summer, he says he's in a much better place.

When celebrities speak out about their mental health struggles, it's worth noticing because their courage can be contagious.

Take, for instance, Hayden Panettiere. The Internet rallied behind the actress after she addressed living with postpartum depression in recent months.

"The postpartum depression I have been experiencing has impacted every aspect of my life,” she told followers on Twitter last week. “Rather than stay stuck due to unhealthy coping mechanisms, I have chosen to take time to reflect holistically on my health and life. Wish me luck!"

Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for NBCUniversal.

In March, "Prison Break" star Wentworth Miller chose to take a viral Internet meme making fun of his weight and use it to shine a light on the dangers of depression.

When the viral photo was taken about six years ago, he was suicidal. Food had been "the one thing I could look forward to," he'd explained in a Facebook post:

"Long story short, I survived. So do those pictures. I'm glad. Now, when I see that image of me in my red t-shirt, a rare smile on my face, I am reminded of my struggle. My endurance and my perseverance in the face of all kinds of demons."

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images.

These stories about our favorite actors and athletes — the same people whose posters line our bedroom walls and epitomize the glitz and glamour of success — can be difficult to hear.

But their openness can inspire fans and readers to face their own struggles, and that bravery can become a powerful catalyst for change.

Now, Phelps is looking ahead to the Olympics this summer with his eye on the prize. But win or lose, he already feels like a champ.

I’m having fun again," Phelps said. "This is something I haven’t had in a really long time."

His fiancée, Nicole, just gave birth to their son earlier this month. And becoming a dad has been the "best feeling" he's ever felt in his life.

It sounds like he's already snagged the gold.

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on
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