Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton says she has “turned a corner” after revealing she considered taking her own life last summer.
Victoria, one of the greatest-ever British cyclists, was diagnosed with depression after returning home from an aborted charity climb of Mount Everest.
Now the 38-year-old, who won golds at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012 and nine World Championship gold medals in a glittering career, has spoken publicly about how her mental health deteriorated in a bid to help others.
Victoria, who pursued a career as a jockey after retiring from cycling, said: “I said to my mum: ‘Please would you forgive me [if I killed myself]?’ Obviously, it was very upsetting for her to hear that. But I really wanted my family to be able to forgive me.
“Because... I wouldn’t do it to hurt them on purpose. You just can’t understand how much I was suffering on the inside.”
The attempt to climb Everest, with TV presenter Ben Fogle, ended when Victoria showed signs of hypoxia – a lack of oxygen – and doctors suggested the condition may have caused her depression.
However, Victoria told the Daily Telegraph it could have been an accumulation of factors, including a recent divorce.
Victoria, who was appointed an MBE in 2010 and CBE in 2013 for services to cycling, said: “I went from this full-on environment; avalanches breaking above my head, jumping across crevasses where you might die if you fell in… to coming back here, to a property I was potentially selling because I needed to move on with my life.
“I didn’t really have security in where I was living, what I was doing next, the whole divorce, how I was feeling about that. It just overwhelmed me.”
She sought help from Steve Peters, a psychiatrist with whom she had worked at British Cycling. “I am so grateful that he picked up,” she said. “I don’t think I would be here if he hadn’t.”
And she credits a surfing trip to Costa Rica as a turning point in her recovery and has since become a patron of The Wave Project, a charity which uses surfing as therapy to help young people.
"Since November I have felt much better," she said. “I've turned a corner. That doesn't mean I won't be more cautious in the future, if I start to feel similar symptoms.
“But I feel I'd be better prepared at least. I guess that's why I'm speaking out now. In case my personal experience can trigger something of use and value for someone else.”
If you have been affected by issues in this article and want to speak to a BACP counsellor, visit our Find a Therapist Directory.