This isn’t the first time Phelps has opened up about his mental health. Back in May, he spoke at an event hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, where he stated: “For me, getting to an all-time low where I didn’t want to be alive anymore, that’s scary as hell. Thinking about taking your own life, I remember sitting in my room for four or five days not wanting to be alive, not talking to anybody.”
Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for men. In fact, men are nearly four times as likely to die by suicide than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
One potential reason for that number? A lot of guys try to ignore their depression and anxiety. At a young age, men are taught to suppress their emotions—so while a small percentage of guys report experiencing depressive episodes, the real number is probably much higher, since very few are willing to admit that they’re struggling, Fred Rabinowitz, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California’s University of Redlands told Men’s Health last year.
“Male depression sometimes manifests through the ‘male code’ that says you cannot show weakness, sadness, or vulnerability,” he explained. To find a socially acceptable way of coping, your feelings may manifest through symptoms more specific to guys, like anger and excessive drinking.
Men who deal with anxiety—which can include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and more—tend to experience similar problems, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. (Here’s how one man overcame his terrible anxiety.)
The kicker? When your mental health takes a dive, talking about it is one of the most effective ways to get better, even though trying to forget your problems exist can be tempting. For Phelps, speaking up made a difference.
“I started talking about the things that I went through, and once I opened up about that and things I had kept inside of me for so many years, I then found that life was a lot easier,” he told the young boy. “I got to the point where I understood that it’s okay to not be okay.”