10 Famous Athletes Who Struggle With Depression
An NCAA survey of athletes found that 30 percent reported feeling depressed over the course of a year. Why? Research from the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health suggests competitive failure and other factors can lead to psychological distress. Here are 10 famous athletes who have struggled with depression and emerged to the other side to help others.
Retired competitive swimmer Michael Phelps is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, boasting a total of 28 medals, but that didn’t make him immune to depression. “After every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” said Phelps in a 2018 interview with CNN, who has admitted to using drugs to self-medicate and contemplating suicide. He now uses his experience to help others through the Michael Phelps Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Professional basketball player Imani Boyette has lived with depression since childhood, when she was raped by a family member. She first tried to kill herself when she was 10 and made another two suicide attempts. Boyette is now a spokesperson and summer camp counselor for the Oregon-based nonprofit Sparks of Hope. She shares her story to raise awareness of mental health, particularly in the African-American community, and help children who are survivors of abuse.
Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Amanda Beard opened up about her battles with depression in her 2012 memoir "In The Water They Can’t See You Cry," revealing that she self-harmed as a way of coping, and also struggled with anorexia, bulimia, and drug abuse.
"Know that you’re not alone, there are millions of people across the nation and the world who are experiencing the same things that you are," Beard said in a 2012 TeamUSA.org interview.
Former professional baseball pitcher Justin Duchscherer was diagnosed with clinical depression by a team psychologist in 2009. Duchscherer believes the pressures of professional baseball and his divorce from his wife contributed to his illness. In a 2009 interview with ESPN, he said, "I felt like a total failure. I felt like, 'I can't stay healthy enough to perform, so I'm not doing my job, and I failed at my marriage.' I started to get into a lot of negative thought patterns.”
In 2015, Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt made her battle with depression public. A few months after Schmitt first contemplated suicide herself, her teenage cousin died from suicide. This inspired Schmitt to reveal her illness to raise mental health awareness. She now speaks at schools and events to educate people about mental illness. “Being vulnerable is not weakness,” she said in a 2017 interview with Women’s Health. “It shows you are strong enough to know that life is sometimes hard for you to handle and you need support.”
Ex-NFL star Ricky Williams is all the proof you need that fame and fortune don't keep depression at bay. "I was 23, a millionaire and had everything, yet I was never more unhappy in my life," he said in an interview with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). "I felt extremely isolated from my friends and family because I couldn't explain to them what I was feeling. I had no idea what was wrong with me." Williams was later diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder.
NBA legend Jerry West has struggled with depression since childhood. In his memoir, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life,” he tells the story of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, which left him going to bed feeling like he didn't even want to live. West’s wife, Karen, revealed that during his low points, he wouldn’t speak for days at a time. However, West’s depression has eased in recent years, and he now describes himself as “the luckiest person in the world.”
Serena Williams may have had a hugely successful career as a global tennis champion, but her sporting achievements weren’t enough to keep depression away. In 2011, Williams revealed that she had been battling depression since winning Wimbledon the previous year, following injuries and health difficulties. “I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Telegraph. Williams has also opened up about postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter Olympia in 2017.
After two devastating defeats in the ring, WWE fighter and former UFC champion Ronda Rousey suffered from depression and contemplated suicide. “I did a whole lot of crying, isolating myself,” she said in a 2018 interview with The Guardian, adding that her husband Travis Browne helped her through a period of depression that lasted two years. Rousey’s advice is that “Time is a great teacher,” and she relies on the belief that “time passes, even bad times.”
Former professional basketball player Delonte West confirmed that he was battling depression and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. “It’s been haunting me my whole life, self-destructive behavior,” he said in a 2008 interview with Cleveland.com. “When everything is on the upside, I’m feeling the worst.” West’s mental health has continued to make headlines in recent years, such as when photos of him walking around late at night in a hospital gown, without shoes were shared on social media.