11 Professional Athletes with Bipolar, Depression, and Anxiety

Last Updated: 30 Jul 2020

Competitive athletes have unique vulnerabilities to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar. Despite the inherent stigma, professional athletes continue to publicly share their mental health struggles to help others.

athletes with bipolar depression or anxiety include Chamique Holdsclaw, Terry Bradshaw, David Feherty and Michael Phelps

Elite athletes endure intense pressure to perform, often contending with fierce public scrutiny while competing in a culture that historically discourages them from seeking help for mental health concerns. From an early age, these competitors are coached to be invincible, to be physically and mentally superior. Yet anxiety-based fears about performance and depression following an injury can lead to psychological distress. The personal stigma among athletes is lessening, thanks to the sporting legends and current competitors who are speaking out and breaking barriers to help create an environment supportive of mental well-being.

Justin Peck

This motorsport champion in off-road trucks and motorcycles told bp Magazine that racing is part of his treatment regime, and the only time he feels in control of his thoughts and experiences “true” mental peace. “I’ve always said that the helmet is my medication … there’s something about being able to put my helmet over my face right before I race that takes away the outside chaos and keeps me focused. It’s pretty amazing.”

David Feherty

Former pro golfer (with 10 international wins) turned commentator and humorist Feherty has lived a life with ADD, addictions, and bipolar depression. “You know, I tell people I don’t suffer from bipolar disorder, I live with it,” he told Rolling Stone magazine. As an upside: “I see from a different side of the street than most people. And I think one of the reasons I got hired to do commentary is the ability to describe something differently.”

Chamique Holdsclaw

This former basketball superstar and Olympic gold medalist was initially diagnosed with major depression in 2004, then was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder when antidepressants triggered mania and sent her into over-the-top spending sprees. Her message to others living with bipolar: “I want them to understand it can get better. I went through a period when I had no hope, when I didn’t want to be here,” she revealed to bp Magazine. “I hope they see my journey and get inspired to keep moving forward every day … and utilize the resources around them.”

Michael Phelps

The most decorated Olympian in all of history opened up in esperanza magazine about how his life spiraled into a deep depression while he was battling addiction and anxiety issues, and how he regained his passion again. “With athletes or celebrities, people think they’re so much different than everybody else. But I’ve gone through the same troubles. Sharing these stories, and having people come up [and say you’ve helped], it’s almost like I feel more human. That’s what I love the most.”

Amanda Beard

This former Olympic swimmer and seven-time medalist has battled bulimia, unhealthy relationships, drug abuse, clinical depression, and self-harm. “Some days, it was hard to just get out of bed,” Beard told esperanza magazine. “There were all these great things going on in my life, but on the inside, I hated everything about [myself].” Her life turned around when she found medication and therapy.

Keith O’Neil

The former NFL linebacker had a long history of battling heavy drinking, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and manic episodes, until he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “I was mentally in a cold, dark, sad place, and no one could help me,” he told bp Magazine. “Finding the right medications, along with my faith, has made all the difference in the world.” He’s now tackling stigma and helping to raise awareness about mental health.

Clint Malarchuk

The former NHL goaltender is best known for surviving a devastating injury on the ice in 1989—witnessed by a nation of TV viewers tuned into a Buffalo Sabres game—when a skate blade slashed his neck. Following that incident, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcoholism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) plagued Malarchuk. Pulling himself out of depression with the help of medication, talk therapy, and meditation, he says, “I realize now that playing hockey gave me the platform for my real purpose—to raise awareness of mental illness, and to help reduce the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety so that no one has to feel alone.”

Suzy Favor Hamilton

The former Olympic runner experienced intense hypersexuality linked with her bipolar I disorder and struggled with acute peripartum depression. “In my case, my bipolar was driving me toward sex. It could have just as easily been driving me toward drugs and alcohol or gambling,” she told bp Magazine. “The message, though, is that it can be treated if diagnosed correctly, with the help of medical people and family and friends. There is hope, and I’m living proof.”

Terry Bradshaw

While celebrated as an NFL star quarterback, Bradshaw is also a broadcaster, writer, musician, and actor. He was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1999 after experiencing anxiety attacks, intense anger, alcohol abuse, and sleeplessness. He now maintains his mental health with medication, therapy, and faith. “You know what, I’m not ashamed of who I am,” he told esperanza magazine. “It’s the way I was made. I just got some issues here, and I dealt with them. And I’m proud of it.”

Dorothy Hamill

This Olympic figure-skating legend was diagnosed with depression in 1993 and has a strong familial history of anxiety and depression. She attests that having a core support group, medication, and therapy helped her find happiness. She is now a motivational speaker for others with mental health challenges. “I think it’s important for people to know that just because it looks like everything’s fabulous on the outside, it isn’t always.”

Charles Haley

Haley was the first five-time Super Bowl champion, from his time with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2002, a few years after he left the NFL, Haley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after which he spent a decade battling addictions, a common symptom of bipolar. At 56, he says he found balance through medication, regular therapy, and participating in a men’s prayer group. He also does charity work and mentors football players.

About the author
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs. As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
  1. As a mother of a bipolar adult son, I have tried to understand, taken classes with NAMI, and spoke about it with family members.
    My son refuses to be medicated, at first he self medicated with pot and alcohol. He has four kids, a set of 5yr old twins, a 9yr old son and an 11yr old daughter. Both boys show signs of bipolar. The youngest has PTSD, and ADHD.
    Here is the real issue for me. He took the youngest son to a doctor, explained what was happening. The doctor said he was just a 5yr old boy. Our doctors are not listening or trained for this. I realize maybe you can’t put someone that young on medication, but you can offer ways of dealing with them, to help manage their lives.
    It turns out by talking to my family, there are quite a few other cousins that have been diagnosed too.
    If this is in your family please take the time to listen and try to understand what you can. Make people aware so the world will be more accepting.
    My son had a lot of friends, did well in school and sports. He is very smart, but he has bipolar, and me!
    Hats off to you all for sharing your stories with the world. You don’t know how much it means to me, reading about your struggles. It helps me understand more of what he is going through.

  2. Mental health, specifically Bipolar 1 for me, sucks because often those without a mental-health diagnosis do not relate to what it’s like. Sometimes I feel that those without this feel that I should just get over it or out of whatever “negative” or “out there” mood I’m in. Unfortunately, I cannot “just” get out of it, usually. My advice is to find someone who will make time to “hear” you and not just “listen.”

  3. I find Hope knowing that mental health issues have no human boundaries! Stop the stigma!!

  4. It’s hard having no one to talk to, I try to talk to my family and they yelled at me and my friends just don’t understand. I’m always the council for everyone that puts so much more stress and I never get to focus on my own mental health yet I’m a person who always wants to help others first. I know I should focus on myself but I just can’t and my parents just scream at me whenever I try to talk to them about anything that’s going on or my feelings. I tried to tell my parents about being suicidal and they screamed at me for hours about having a great life. It gets so hard and sometimes I don’t know what to do.

    1. Thank you for your story about hope and resilience.
      I admire people who shared with you and us readers their battles and shunned light and love for life in spite of sometimes insurmountable obstacles.

    2. The hardest part of having bipolar is admitting it. Like any chronic condition, bipolar is an everyday battle that we fight courageously. But too many know the stigma attached and so they hide it and attempt to fight the battle alone. For men, it seems so much harder to go there…that road of denial is very long and lonely. And like any battle, it is won by team work, by all the warriors together fighting.
      No war has ever been won by One person.
      I saw the signs early on. My son was a sensitive caring loving little boy. He often felt emotions much stronger than others.
      As he got older it was clear with the mania that he, too, had what was our big family secret, bipolar.
      It should be called a Syndrome as it rears it’s head differently with each person.
      Hypersexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, bursts of anger, bursts of grandeur, too many ideas flooding our brains at once and rarely the ability to sleep, all seem to hit either at the same time or in spurts.
      My son drinks alot and swears he’s in control. He refused to see the signs of Bipolar including hypersexuality, severe mood swings and refusing to talk about it. For men it is the fear of appearing weak to admit to a lifelong disorder. I know patients, as a lifelong nurse, who refused to admit to having diabetes even gout. It’s a man thing. Yet they will suffer, telling themselves, men can ” get over it”.
      So our talks go mute. He knows I am bipolar having lived a turmoultous childhood with me when I was undiagnosed and untreated. I worked so much that it was never seen by others except my iconic ability to work numerous double shifts with no lack of energy. My upbeat infectious attitude. What they didn’t see was drinking myself to passing out with Plum wine..it was only wine! Or my days of depression that were occupioned by severe migraines.
      We all have our ” signs and symptoms” we ignore or explain away. Stigma is big and very real, but the worst is our own defacing stigma we battle individually, silently and so many of us give in and check out.

      It is so important to see athletes talk about their Bipolar. It tells us…hey, they can deal so why not me! It lifts the stigma, although slightly, enough for us to say,…ok..guess I too can do this. I hope more men with Bipolar, diagnosed or not, realize that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s human to have a disorder and it’s courageous to get help..fight it..and stop the pain of the not handling it brings.
      My meds, therapy, mindfulness and knowing every trigger help me to battle this. It IS lifelong but it gets a bit easier as we do what’s necessary but first admitting it is the crucial weapon.
      I thank these brave women and men who come forward, challenging society to get a clue..we are all human and we all have our own battles. Bipolar is one and it takes weapons to win and an Army at your side.
      No battle is victorious no war won without it. Fight on warriors! Fight on!

    3. I’m so sorry Ham, for the extreme reactions of those around you. SchlCoumsir’s comments seem very wise.

    4. First of all I’m so sorry they screamed at you. If anything this article proves that you can have a “great life” and still have problems with mental illness. My non binary child and my daughter have also had issues with suicidal thoughts as do I. The other poster is right you can seek mental health help as young as 14 in alot of states. If you aren’t able to for some reason I suggest 7 cups,bloom, there are even text messaging help lines for teens if you search “teen help text line” my non binary child uses it all the time. I wish you the best of luck and you’ll be in my thoughts.
      Love and light✨

    5. Hey Han,

      I am a counselor and I came across this doing research for a paper. I know if it is now summer and your school counselor probably is off for the summer. You can always use them as an outlet! They will take you seriously and get you connected to local resources. Please please please reach out. I don’t know your age, but you can seek mental health counseling on your own at the age of 14 in most states!

  5. I have suffered depression my whole life.. I’m 45 years old and have spent my life running away .. using cannabis to stay out of my own head.. I have lingual nerve damage as well and for someone with an anxiety disorder it magnifies everything by 100. It’s time for me to accept and take charge of my life.. retire my anxious brain.. I’m starting a medication and taking my amino acid supplements.. first I must start with resorting my sleep and start my therapy.. I have struggled greatly in life and been to hell and back.. its very hard trying to figure out what to do..but I must be brave and try until I find a balance of what will help..

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