Ruta Meilutyte has been in the public eye ever since she came out of relative obscurity to win Olympic gold in the 100 breast in 2012 at the age of 15.
She told Brazilian site Globo Esporte Thursday that she was deeply affected by the pressure to continue her success and the persistence of the media in the wake of those Olympics. Meilutyte, now 21 and representing Flamengo at the 2018 Brazil Trophy in Rio de Janeiro, says she has been suffering from severe depression since 2016.
“I have depression and I fight every day against it. It’s a battle. With the help of my family and friends, I found ways to deal with it and feel better,” she said. “But I’m not free and I feel I still have to work to get out of it.”
Meilutyte attended the 2016 Olympics and took 7th in the 100 breast while still rehabbing her elbow, which she broke in 2015. Her depression was at its worst after the Olympics, and she says she almost gave up on swimming because of it.
“At that time, I was not happy with myself and at the same time had to go on with life and produce good results, ” she said. “I went into deep depression. It was the lowest point I went through.”
“Sometimes I wondered what I was doing with my life, because everything seemed meaningless,” she continued. “It was a loss of the perception of things, that made me discard the positive side of my life and focus only on the negative. And then I did not want to train or see people.”
Since those Olympics, Meilutyte left her old coach, Jon Rudd, and had been exploring various coaching options until she recently landed on Dave Salo in Southern California. You can find out more about her Rio experience in her new movie, Ruta.
Meilutyte is certainly not alone voicing her experience with mental health. Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt have been vocal about their own struggles recently, as well as Australian Grant Hackett, just to name a few. Meilutyte pointed out that the number of athletes with depression is “more normal than people think.”
“It’s not something we should be afraid to talk about. Many athletes are afraid it sounds like an excuse,” she said. “But for me, it was important to talk about my experience.”
When it comes to the future, Meilutyte is intent on making another Olympics, but is not putting pressure on herself to return to pre-2016 form. She is exploring events outside of breastroke, and will race a 50 free in addition to the 50 and 100 breast (which she won in 1:07.35) this week.
“Today, I am more aware of what I can do, what I do, and what I feel. Everything happened so quickly and it was so overwhelming that I could not control it. I’m ready for anything,” she said.