Olympic medalists Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt served as honorary chairs for SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day event on May 4. Both have experienced depression and eventually found help. Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas E. Price, M.D., presented both Michael and Allison with SAMHSA Special Recognition Awards for their support of children, youth, and young adults with mental and substance use disorders.

Allison Schmitt, Kana Enomoto, George Sigounas, Secretary Thomas Price, and Michael Phelps

Allison Schmitt; SAMHSA’s Kana Enomoto, Acting Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use; George Sigounas, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator; Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary; Michael Phelps at the 2017 Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day event.

During the event, Michael explained why partnering with SAMHSA, was so important. “I want to be able to get out in front and talk and say – look, I’ve done these great things in the pool, but I’m also a human, just like other people in the world that are going through the exact same struggle.”

His remarks were echoed by Allison who described the special recognition award from SAMHSA as the most meaningful award of her life. Allison spoke of the importance of reaching out for help – something that was not easy for her. “I was battling depression – and my 17-year-old cousin was also battling depression, and we didn’t know it. She lost her life one week after her 17th birthday to suicide. She was in such a dark place, and so isolated, and felt so alone inside,” said Allison.

The two talked about the “red flag” of isolation and said that isolation can be a warning sign to others that something is not right.

Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt Talk about DepressionAllison described a time when she returned to her home and chose to park in an unusual spot, so her college roommates would not realize she was there. She went to her room and cried in her closet – isolating herself from her friends or anyone else who could help. Michael had a similar experience when, in the depths of his depression, he stayed in his room for days, wondering if life was worth continuing. They both sought treatment and now support each other.

“Allison and Michael demonstrate that reaching out for help is a sign of strength and self-awareness,” said Paolo Delvecchio, M.S.W., Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “They provide a living example of resilience and recovery by sharing their stories publicly and supporting each other.”

This year marks the 12th year of SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Each year more than 1,100 communities across the country and 160 national organization and federal programs conduct Awareness Day activities. New collaborating organizations this year included American Academy of Family Physicians, American Diabetes Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and the Medical Reserve Corps.

Awareness Day 2017: “Partnering for Help and Hope” focused on the importance of addressing physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral health needs when providing services and supports for children, youth, and young adults.

During the event, SAMHSA released reports combining 2005 to 2014 data showing that major depressive episodes were more common among adolescents ages 12 to 17 with asthma (11.4 percent) or diabetes (14.3 percent), than among adolescents without asthma (8.8 percent) or diabetes (9.0 percent). In addition, adolescent girls who were overweight or obese were more likely to have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year than those who were a healthy weight (20.5 percent vs. 17.4 percent).

To view the webcast of the national event, go to samhsa.gov/children.

Allison Schmitt, Secretary Thomas Price, and Michael Phelps

“We commend Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt for having the courage to speak out about their mental health challenges. Their honesty and candor have shown countless Americans quietly struggling with mental illness that seeking help is a sign not of weakness, but of strength,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D.

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