Open Up

Michael with his Special Olympic friends talking about mentally preparing for competitions.

The Michael Phelps Foundation proudly announces the launch of Open Up, a global effort to advance its mental health initiatives. Since first speaking openly about his personal struggles in 2015, Michael has since helped to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, by encouraging public discussion, speaking frequently to children and organizations, including The Kennedy Forum, World Innovation Summit for Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Research & Hope Awards, and Child Mind Institute, among others; he has partnered with organizations working to develop and improve solutions available to support mental health treatment, including Medibio and Talkspace; he has participated in the documentary “Angst,” created to bring awareness and generate conversations about anxiety, and he is helping to produce a documentary providing an inside look into the hidden struggles of Olympic athletes; and in 2017, the Michael Phelps Foundation incorporated a mental health component into its IM Healthy curriculum, which is provided to Boys & Girls Clubs in every State.

One in six adults in America live with a mental illness, but only 41% of those adults received mental health services this year. Among young elite athletes, stigma was the most important perceived barrier to seeking help. By launching this broader mental health initiative, Michael and the Michael Phelps Foundation hope to accelerate their efforts to address the urgent issue by seeking to establish its programming in schools and other organizations, and also outside of the U.S. As Michael says: “I used to compartmentalize everything, afraid to allow myself to become vulnerable. Eventually, things got so bad, I told myself, ‘there has to be a better way,’ and I just opened up. The moment I did that, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Ironically, the more I opened up, the more empowered I felt. It was the opposite of vulnerable! By opening up, I was able to learn about myself, and I became receptive to the help and support of others. I also found that by opening up, I appeared to others to be more receptive, and I found so many other people who hadn’t previously indicated they’d been suffering, were now also opening up, sharing similar stories of their own. Mental health affects everybody differently, and the ways people treat and manage their mental health issues vary greatly, but it all starts by realizing that it’s ok to not feel ok, and opening up. From there, anything’s possible!”

Good mental health is just as important as good physical health. We are proud to offer our eight new lesson plans on emotional health to educators, daycare providers, and parents so they can help their kids build inner strengths. Caregivers can view the Michael Phelps Foundation IM Emotionally Healthy Program by clicking this link.

If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to the Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. The Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7, confidential messaging service for people in crisis. Every texter is connected with a Crisis Counselor, a real-life human being trained to bring texters from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening and collaborative problem-solving. All of the Crisis Text Line’s Crisis Counselors are volunteers, donating their time to helping people in crisis. They believe data science and technology provides a unique opportunity for human responders (not robots) to provide faster and more accurate support

Mental Health Resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

· It’s important to encourage open dialogue about mental health. Mental health challenges are commonplace and often start to affect people in their teen or young adult years.

· Depression is the most common mental health condition. It can be a serious illness that causes symptoms that can interfere with one’s ability to study, work, sleep, eat and enjoy life.

· While depression has many symptoms and can feel different in different people, you can look for these possible signs: Persistent sadness, decreased energy, overwhelming fatigue, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, feeling trapped or like a burden to others, withdrawing from activities one usually loves, isolating from friends and family, changing appearance in a dramatic fashion, increased drug or alcohol abuse, constant mood shifts, difficulty concentrating, changes in sleeping patterns.

· If you think someone you know may be suffering from depression, anxiety or addiction, it’s okay to ask how they are feeling or how you can help. You can also encourage them to talk to a parent, a school counselor or to call or text a helpline that will point them to helpful resources and services.

Suicide Prevention

· There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create a feeling of hopelessness or despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide and it is often underdiagnosed or undertreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance abuse, especially when left unaddressed, can increase risk of suicide.

· Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. It doesn’t increase the risk or plant the idea in someone’s head, but it is helpful to invite conversations about feelings, thoughts and perspectives.

· Peers are often the first to note early signs of mental health issues, and when young people do seek support, an estimated 75% will turn to a peer.

Look out for possible warnings signs of increased suicide risk:

– Changes in or new behavior related to a painful event, loss or major change
– Talking about harming or killing oneself
– Expressing feelings of hopelessness, feeling like a burden
– Increased alcohol or drug use
– Withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends
– Feelings of depression, anxiety, loss of interest, humiliation or rage

It isn’t always easy to reach out to someone who may be struggling with mental health, but just having a conversation can make a life-changing difference.