Olympian Michael Phelps honored for mental health advocacy
BOSTON (AP) — Michael Phelps is picking up more hardware — this time for what he’s been doing outside the pool.
The Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading voice in calling for more opportunities for the disabled, said Tuesday the Olympic champion is the recipient of its fifth annual Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion.
The foundation told The Associated Press it picked the world’s most decorated swimmer of all time to recognize his advocacy for people with disabilities and “his own journey with mental health.”
Phelps has gone public about his struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide.
Last year, the 23-time Olympic gold medalist announced a partnership with Talkspace , which provides online therapy for those who are going through tough times. Phelps said helping people overcome the dark chapters in their lives is “way bigger than ever winning gold medals.”
In a statement, the 33-year-old Olympian thanked the Ruderman Family Foundation for “their continued efforts to help eliminate the shame and stigma that surrounds mental illness.”
“Together, we can normalize the mental health conversation and recognize the potential in every person — with or without mental illness — to contribute to our world in their own unique way,” Phelps said.
The foundation works for more inclusion and opportunities for the disabled. Previous recipients of its award include Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, of Iowa, a driving force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president, called Phelps an example of the importance of self-care and of reaching out for help when it’s needed. That helps take the stigma and shame away from mental health struggles, he said.
Phelps “has changed the landscape of mental health awareness,” Ruderman said.
Since retiring from competition after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the swimmer has been promoting the importance of not just physical fitness but mental health. In 2017, he was honorary chairman of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Mental Health Awareness Day.
He’s also served as an ambassador for the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit group working to help children who struggle with mental health and learning disorders.