NEW YORK – Greek-American runner and Olympian Alexi Pappas was recently featured in a New Yok Times Op-ed documentary, titled I Achieved My Wildest Dreams. Then Depression Hit.
Pappas spent her whole life training for the Olympics but was not prepared for depression.
“I’ve always been an extremely motivated person,” Pappas says in the video, noting that after she achieved her dream of competing in the Olympic Games, she was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and “it nearly cost me my life.”
Pappas added that “it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She asks in the video, “What if we athletes approached our mental health the same way we approached our physical health?”
Pappas then reveals in the video that after her fifth birthday, her mother took her own life and Pappas then tried not to become like her mother. Noting that most people think depression follows traumatic events in life, Pappas explained that for her, it followed a great success, her fulfilling her “wildest dream” competing in the Olympics in Rio in 2016 where she represented Greece in the 10,000 meters.
Her depression began with sleeplessness and the inability to turn her mind off as she thought about what she was going to do next. She began to push harder in her training, running more and more, going to a high altitude training camp, and was getting only one hour of sleep a night. Pappas then began having suicidal thoughts and it was her father who helped her change her point of view about depression, seeing it as an injury that she could get treated like she would if it was a physical injury that required rehabilitation.
Pappas mentions other athletes and Olympians who have faced mental health issues, including swimmer Michael Phelps, figure skater Gracie Gold, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love, and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player David Freese.
She pointed out that athletes, coaches and teams should give mental health as much attention as physical health, since many high achieving athletes often suffer from issues with mental health.
Pappas teared up as she shared her realization that her mother “didn’t have to die.”
After getting help for her own depression, Pappas was able to return to training, being mindful of her mental and physical health.
The video is available online: https://nyti.ms/2IpxdoW.