Olympians and longtime training partners Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt have been selected to serve as Honorary Chairpersons of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Health Awareness Day national event. The official event is set to take place on Thursday, May 4th at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs Jack Morton Auditorium, with the goal of focusing attention on the needs of children, youth and young adults who experience behavioral health disorders, such as mental illnesses and addictions.
Both Phelps and Schmitt will receive SAMHSA’s Special Recognition Award for having spoken openly about their own behavioral challenges experienced in their lives. For 23-time Olympic gold medalist Phelps, the Baltimore native notched two DUIs over his career. He has described the period after his 2nd DUI as especially dark. “I was in the lowest place I’ve ever been. Honestly, at one point I felt like I didn’t want to see another day. Felt like it should be over,” he said. Phelps subsequently spent time in a treatment center in 2014, after which, the 31-year-old emerged healthy, driven and ultimately back to form, as he clinched his 28th Olympic medal in Rio last summer.
Schmitt, who trained with Phelps both in Baltimore and then in Tempe, Arizona under Bob Bowman, in 2015 spoke candidly about her post-London depression. Even having won Olympic gold at the 2012 Games, Schmitt didn’t feel like herself and suffered from lack of confidence. She encouraged others to seek help and recognize that ‘it’s ok to not be ok.’
“Children and young adults often look to athletes as role models for leading healthy lives. By speaking about treatment and recovery, Michael and Allison are helping youth view behavioral health as an important part of their overall health,” said Kana Enomoto, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary.
“Allison and I are excited to be a part of this national effort. As we travel all over the country, we’re often asked about our training, diets, and routines for staying fit,” said Michael Phelps. “Being involved in Awareness Day and with SAMHSA gives us the chance to emphasize that paying attention to mental health is another important component of growing up healthy.”
Per SAMHSA’s site, the event will feature interactive panel discussions about understanding the connection between physical and behavioral health; improving communication between primary care providers, behavioral health providers, and youth and families; and supporting the mental health needs of youth who experience chronic illness.