Phelps opens up to PEOPLE about why he's chosen to be so candid about depression — and the positive feedback he has received for it
Though he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps still deals with daily mental health issues.
Phelps, 33, has been vocal about his struggles with depression and anxiety for some time, but tells PEOPLE it took him a while to get there.
“I obviously put it away for a long time and never really openly talked about it,” he explains now.
However, the positive feedback he has gotten has enlightened his honesty on the topic even further. “Just hearing stories from people walking on the street or being in the airport, they will come up and share just a tidbit of what they have gone through or what a loved one has gone through,” he tells PEOPLE.
“I think it is awesome to be able to see and show that these people and heroes that people love and look up to are normal people,” he continues. “We go through everyday struggles like normal people do.”
And Phelps is equipped with methods that guide him through dark moments.
“Swimming is always something that helps,” he explains. “Working out is something for me that I have to do. Six or seven days a week right now. But that is all my body knows. It is all I did for 20 plus years.”
Phelps also, of course, finds joy in the family he has formed. He and his wife, Nicole, are expecting their third child. The couple already has two sons, Boomer, 2, and Beckett, 14 months.
While he promises he is “done” with future Olympic appearances, Phelps still has a focus on water, serving as the Global Ambassador for Colgate for their “Save the Water” campaign, which prioritizes conserving water in the country.
“I think there is so many things we can do together, just to help,” he says. “If you leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth for a week straight, you waste 900 cups. But it’s like, something like that is so simple.”
He continues, noting, “We take it for granted because we have had it for so long and this is something we think is always going to be there, but it is not. We really need to change how we live our everyday lives to make sure we have this precious resource forever.”
With his attention split between his family, mental health awareness and conservatory efforts, Phelps is confident his new life goals are no less important than his time in the Olympics.
“The things I am doing outside the pool have a bigger impact than in the pool,” he tells PEOPLE. “From a personal standpoint and from a global standpoint, being able to potentially save a life or give someone the opportunity to have clean drinking water, I think this is something we have to have.”
Continues Phelps, “I saw retirement as being different, and I think retirement from my sport is probably harder than swimming. It is a learning experience and I am learning a lot about myself and life that I never really learned. It is a cool journey and I am excited to see where the world takes us.”