Despite being the most decorated Olympian of all-time, American legend swimmer Michael Phelps admits he contemplated suicide following the 2012 Games in London.
The 28-time medalist shared the comments in a discussion with political strategist David Axelrod this week at the fourth annual conference of the Kennedy Forum, a behavioral health advocacy group.
"Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression," Phelps said, CNN reports. Following the 2012 Games, during which he earned four gold and two silver medals, he said he spent several days in his room, barely eating or sleeping.
"I didn't want to be in the sport anymore," the 32-year-old said. "I didn't want to be alive." Phelps said in his darkest moments, particularly following the 2012 Games, he contemplated taking his own life.
Other disheartening moments included Phelps' two DUI charges, in 2004 and 2014. He was also photographed weeks after the 2008 Beijing Olympics taking hits from a bong, which he later called "regrettable" behavior.
"Drugs were a way of running from 'whatever it was I wanted to run from,'" he said. "It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from."
The swimming champion said his depression and harmful thoughts improved when he began to talk about his feelings in a treatment center. He said "life became easy" once he opened up about his battles and emotions.
To share his journey to healing with others, his Michael Phelps Foundation has begun to offer stress management programs. Phelps said his ability to help others struggling with mental health issues has been "way more powerful" than any of his record-breaking athletic feats.
"Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal," Phelps said. "I am extremely thankful that I didn't not take my life."
Since Phelps retired from his sport following the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he has been vocal about his past struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. He also revealed in August that he contemplated suicide after his second DUI arrest in 2014.
Now, Phelps puts helping others at the forefront of his life, including his foundation work and contributions with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, he said.