Olympic legend Michael Phelps warns athletes mental health is a serious concern following Tokyo postponement

Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps is calling on officials to provide the support needed for under stress athletes.

The Tokyo Olympics were officially postponed on Wednesday, just four months out from the scheduled start date. The coronavirus pandemic left organisers and International Olympic Committee members no choice but to reschedule until 2021.

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 medals in total, is deeply concerned for the well-being of athletes who have dedicated four years of their life to peak for August 2020.

Phelps, from the US, has warned that some athletes' lives may be at risk because of mental health.

"I just feel really badly for all the athletes who have made it this far," Phelps told NBC.

"On the one hand, I’m relieved that they’re getting another year, and rightfully so. But the waiting also makes it a lot more difficult.

"I really, really hope we don’t see an increase in athlete suicide rates because of this. 

"Because the mental health component is by far the biggest thing here. 

"This postponement is uncharted waters. 

"We’ve never seen this before. It was the right decision, but it breaks my heart for the athletes."

Michael Phelps celebrates another gold medal
Michael Phelps celebrates another gold medal Photo credit: Getty

Mental health is Phelps' new passion post-athletic career. An admitted battler of depression, Phelps has previously revealed he considered suicide in 2014, after being arrested for drink-driving. 

Following that incident, Phelps' life spiralled out of control. He spent 45 days in a rehabilitation facility and copping a hefty suspension from USA Swimming.

Phelps recovered to appear in his swansong Olympics at Rio, where he sensationally won five gold medals and a silver. 

The 34-year-old said he still deals with his mental health issues but has learned how to combat them.

"I’ve gone through a handful of pretty scary depressive spells since Rio," said Phelps. 

"It's not something that’s going to go away. But I’ve learned that my depression and anxiety don’t hold me back, they make me who I am."

The global chaos surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak will be heavily felt by Olympic hopefuls, said Phelps. Large parts of the US are in lockdown, much like the rest of the world, and he believes that poses a dangerous formula for aspiring Olympians who are re-calibrating their lives. 

"If this happened to me, and I was in a bad place mentally, I would have unravelled," he said. "As someone who has gone through some really deep stages of depression, and still deals with it, I hope and pray that every one of these athletes gets help with the mental health part of this situation.

"This is a very big thing, and we can’t even leave our houses now. So if you’re an athlete, go online, pick up the phone, find somebody to talk to."

"There is no bigger time for them [US Olympic officials] to act than now. 

"If they want to help athletes, they need to do it now. 

"Because right now is the most crucial time for athletes."

Where to find help and support:

Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)