Michael Phelps Discusses Importance of ‘Battle Buddy’ in Latest Emphasis on Mental Health Awareness

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps Discusses Importance of ‘Battle Buddy’ in Latest Emphasis on Mental Health Awareness

When Michael Phelps’ name enters a conversation, it usually indicates a discussion of his athletic greatness. The 28 Olympic medals – 23 of them gold. The world records. His ability to snare victories with improbable finishes. The longevity (five Olympiads). His impact on the youth of the sport.

Out of the water, though, Phelps has also had a significant influence. For years, while using specifics in his life as examples, the now 38-year-old has stressed the importance of mental health. He again discussed the critical topic last week while appearing as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Phelps’ appearance with Fallon was exactly what is expected when a celebrity appears on a comedy-based talk show. They laughed together. Phelps told a funny story about a recent swim meet in which one of his sons competed. They played a game of Water War, where the loser of a hand of the card game War had a glass of water splashed in his face. It was an entertaining segment.

But the appearance also included a serious tinge, and it revolved around mental health. To Fallon’s credit, along with the show’s producers, Phelps was given the opportunity to get real about the topics of anxiety and depression. Specifically, Phelps spoke of the importance of having a “Battle Buddy” in one’s life, an individual who you can be honest with about your struggles and can support you through difficult times. The “Battle Buddy” is someone who checks on you and to whom you give a ring, often to simply ask: “How are you doing?”

There used to be a stigma around mental health, and in some unfortunate circles, dealing with anxiety and depression is still viewed as weakness. However, progress has been made and the more mental health is discussed, there will be safety nets, support systems and understanding for those who wrestle with what can be debilitating moments.

“For the longest time, I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness because that’s what society kind of teaches us,” Phelps has said. “Well, you know what? If someone wants to call me weak for asking for help, that’s their problem. Because I’m saving my own life.”

On a personal note, I hold a deep appreciation for Phelps’ willingness to consistently address mental health and make it a major platform in his life. Anxiety is something I deal with on a near daily basis. It’s not fun, and if you’ve never awoken with that hollow feeling in your chest, consider yourself lucky.

There used to be a time when I blamed myself and allowed the frustration of my anxiety to exacerbate the situation. Why can’t I handle this? I should be able to bulldoze these feelings and sensations. Eventually, with the help of family, friends, and professionals, I learned something: This is me. More important, I recognized that I was not alone, and I was going to be supported, encouraged, and unconditionally loved by those around me.

I also found that doing things that brought me joy, or an escape, were key. Going to the gym, while obviously a great physical activity, is as important for me from a mental standpoint. The gym is a place I enjoy, a respite from the hectic nature of the day.

In recent years in the sports world, athletes such as Allison Schmitt, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have joined Phelps in bringing the mental health discussion to the forefront. It is essential that these individuals are joined by others with significant platforms to continue to destigmatize mental health struggles and offer solace for anyone who might be struggling with anxiety and depression.

We all should have someone in our life who is a “Battle Buddy,” someone willing to dive into that proverbial trench with you. And we can be thankful for individuals like Michael Phelps, whose influence on the topic of mental health is only going to benefit others and is worthy of a medal that holds greater sway than any other piece of hardware.

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