An Australian Olympic medallist has candidly opened up about his harrowing struggles with ‘life threatening’ anxiety and depression in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Zac Incerti has returned home with his swimming teammates after Australia’s best ever Olympics in the pool, where he won two bronze medals in the 4x 100 and 200 freestyle relays.
He used his first day in quarantine at Howard Springs to share a candid and poignant account of his mental health battles in recent years with a heartfelt message of support to anyone currently in a dark place.
The West Australian, 25, is among a host of Olympians who have spoken out about their inner demons, including swimmer Caleb Dressel and gymnast Simone Biles from the US, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka and Great Britain gold medallist Adam Peaty.
Olympic medallist Zac Incerti (pictured) has opened up about his inner dark demons
Incerti began the lengthy post by describing his first anxiety attack in December 2018.
‘Like a lot of people it very much rocked me to my core,’ he wrote.
‘I think of everything that followed that attack to the lowest of depression, to more and more attacks and thinking I shouldn’t tell people about it or everything was really fine and that people won’t know what to say if I tell them what I was really going through.’
A year ago, Incerti filmed himself reading out a letter to anxiety and depression in a desperate bid to improve his ‘life-threatening’ mental health and overcome his inner demons.
He shared his video to Instagram and was inundated with support afterwards, which he remains grateful for to this day.
‘Thinking about the overwhelming support I got for that and still do to this day and just thinking wow to be here today being able to tell people I’m an Australian Olympian is honestly unbelievable and it’s something I don’t take lightly and something that will stay with me forever,’ Incerti continued.
Zac Inserti (second right) overcame ‘life threatening’ mental health struggles to be on the medal podium in Tokyo last week
The brutally frank video letter shared in June last year coincided with Men’s Mental Health Week at the time.
‘I never really understood who you are or what you’re about,’ Incerti’s letter titled Dear Anxiety begins.
‘I always thought you were an over-exaggeration because doesn’t everyone have you? Aren’t you just an emotion, like happy, sad or angry?’
‘To me, I always thought you were that sudden rush I got when I was about to race but then, you started happening whenever something in my personal life went wrong, like breaking up with a girlfriend or getting injured and not being able to train for a while.’
Zac Incerti (right) won two bronze relay medals in the pool last week. He’s pictured embracing Great Britain rival Duncan Scott
Incerti revealed how he’d been again overwhelmed by anxiety, despite ‘absolutely nothing’ being wrong in his life.
‘The worst part about you is that you completely counteract with my depression, which sucks because I’d be feeling really tired but at the same time I won’t be able to get to sleep,’ Inserti reads on.
‘Because I don’t know why you are happening, all I want to do is get rid of you and in doing so, this actually make it worse.
‘I struggle to think you’ll ever get better but this time, because I don’t really know why you’re here, I’m not struggling to talk about you as much, which is a good thing and given me a reason to get out of bed.’
Zac Inserti (pictured) has urged others battling with mental health to reach out for support
The swimmer from Broome ended his latest post urging others fighting personal demons to reach out for support.
‘To anyone and I mean anyone going through tough times, I PROMISE it gets better and if you want to reach out to me please do not hesitate,’ Incerti pleaded.
‘There will never be judgement from me and I will have your back to fight this stigma of not talking about mental health.’
The post was inundated with messages of support from fellow swimmers Kyle Chalmers, Emma McKeon and Tasmin Cook, along with Aussie track star Liz Clay.
‘Proud of you brother, honoured to share the journey and go to battle with you,’ relay teammate and 100m silver medallist Chalmers commented.
One fan added: ‘Thank you for being so strong and being a good role model. Anxiety is hard and to see you make it so far and do so well with it is really inspiring and gives me hope.’
Inserti celebrated his success last week by opening up about his comeback from an injured and written off athlete to being a dual Olympian.
Australian four-time Olympian Cate Campbell has previously opened up about her mental health struggles following a disappointing 2016 Games in the pool.
If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.
Zac Inserti wrote a letter to anxiety, which he later filmed and shared to Instagram