Michael Phelps Credits Wife Nicole Johnson With Helping Him Through Anxiety and Depression Struggles

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said he couldn't have survived his mental health without the help of wife Nicole Johnson. Now, the couple proudly advocates for mental health awareness.

By Steven Vargas May 05, 2022 9:33 PMTags
Watch: Michael Phelps Talks Retiring From Swimming After Rio

Champion swimmer Michael Phelps says his wife Nicole Johnson deserves a medal for keeping his head above water.

"For 15 years, Nicole has seen me go up and down," the Olympic gold medalist told Today on May 4. "There's no other person that would be able to support me like she has. She's the glue that holds all of us together."

The 36-year-old explained that his mental health can shift in an instant, saying, "One day I can wake up and I can feel like I'm on top of the world and I can do absolutely anything and everything and the next day I can wake up and not want to get out of bed."

Michael and Nicole—who share kids Boomer Robert Phelps, 6, Beckett Richard Phelps, 4, and Maverick Nicolas Phelps, 2—don't shy away from making their children aware of what it means to live with anxiety and depression.

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Nicole, 36, says she lets the kids know when "dad" needs space. "I'm very vocal and making sure that the kids are aware that maybe Michael's having a rough day and that [they] didn't do something that made daddy feel this way," she said. "It's daddy having his own stuff."

Michael shared with Today that Nicole has also helped him understand his childhood trauma and offer support through books and quotes that she feels will resonate with what he experienced growing up with divorced parents. 


"I keep reminding Michael that I'm not here to judge him," she said. "I'm here to support him. I'm here to love him. I'm not going to shame him. I'm not going to say you can't feel that way. But just making sure I'm there."

In 2018, Michael told Today about his lowest point shortly after a DUI arrest that led to a brief time in rehab.

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"I was so down on myself," he said at the time. ""I didn't have any self-love and quite honestly, I just didn't want to be alive. I didn't want to see anybody, because for me, I saw myself as letting so many people down and me, myself in particular, and that's hard to carry." 

He continued, "I never asked for help, really, ever in my career, and that was the first time that I really did that."

In his recent interview with Today, Michael explained a practice he shares with his kids called the "lion's breath" where he takes in a deep breath and lets out a loud sigh that releases the negative energy he may be holding.

"There are still days where I don't feel like me," he told Today. "My depression and anxiety aren't going to just disappear."

Now retired, Michael remains the world's most decorated Olympian with 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. He explained that he wants to be seen as more than just a swimmer. 

"I look at myself as a dad of three, a husband, somebody who is trying to do whatever I can to prevent as many suicides and talk about mental health," he said, "because it's something that's real in my life and it's real every day."

If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.