LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital

Four-Time Olympian Silken Laumann on ‘Going Through Hell’ With Mental Illness—While Remaining Atop Her Game

September 17, 2019, 12:29 AM UTC

Despite Silken Laumann being a four-time Olympian and world champion rower whose life inspired many, the world-class athlete was once incredibly unhappy and lived in despair.

Like many high-achievers, Laumann kept her stress and depression bottled up inside, she explained at Fortune’s MPW International Summit in Toronto on Monday. After becoming a high-profile public speaker, Laumann kept on pushing through life and work, and one day decided to take her children on a work-trip to Phoenix, Ariz.

But when her kids started complaining, Laumann said she felt “absolute rage,” and she “wanted to hurt them.” This scared Laumann, who said she immediately sought help. Since then, her life has changed for the better, and she’s now openly discussing her challenges with mental illness as a way to de-stigmatize the condition that millions suffer from.

“I always had to perform at the top of my game,” Laumann said. “And yet inside I was going through hell.”

Margaret Trudeau, who was formerly married to former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and is the mother of current prime minister Justin Trudeau, has also struggled with mental illness.

Trudeau said that one of her biggest mental-health challenges was that she was in denial over the severity of her illness. It was only after she overcame her denial that she was able to take to her treatment.

“Denial is a very common common thing,” Trudeau said. “The hardest thing is to talk about it.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Meet the costume designer behind the pitch-perfect corporate wear on ‘Succession’
—What it’s really like to have a baby while running your company
—What does it take to certify that a company takes harassment seriously?
A rare tech company where women dominate
—35 states in the U.S. still charge women a tampon tax
Keep up with the world’s most powerful women with Fortune’s Broadsheet newsletter.