Changing the Conversation About Athletes’ Mental Health – Simone Biles Mental Health Olympics
‘It’s O.K. to get help to become your best self.’
The conversation surrounding mental health in sports — particularly elite athletics — has long been taboo. It was once considered unseemly even to discuss such things publicly, let alone talk openly about how they might affect performance. Now, however, we’re seeing some progress: Some professional leagues now require players to disclose if they’ve had depression or anxiety, and several major U.S. colleges have adopted policies requiring student-athletes to receive counseling when needed.
Recently, Simone Biles mental health statement has been a forerunner within these discussions of athletes and their mental health.
It came as a shock to many when she pulled herself out of 2 Gymnastics events in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to “personal reasons”.
The 24-year-old Biles’s statement later came out that she was not in the right mental state to compete and was dealing with mental health issues.
She had to look after not only her own mental health but consider Team USA and their chances of winning gold.
Simone Biles opened up by stating she would not compete at the 2020 Summer Games after suffering from anxiety and depression during training camp this summer.
The decision to focus on her mental health made a huge step forward for parity between mental and physical health.
With a physical injury, the impact can be immediate and the limitation posed to physical performance may be more visible. But mental health conditions, left unacknowledged or untreated, can have significant consequences, too, and Biles’s actions spotlighted that.
“When people try to ‘power through’ a mental health problem, they are denying their experience, whether that be their thoughts or feelings,” Houle says. Denying how you’re feeling or thinking can actually make things worse.
Biles’s decision to step down from the Olympic stage due to her mental health follows several recent examples of prominent athletes speaking out about and prioritizing their mental health, recognizing the critical role it plays in their performance. Tennis great Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this year, also citing her mental health.https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/simone-biles-withdraws-from-olympics-redefining-heroics-in-sports/
Biles Exposes Pressures Athletes Face
“We are human too…I say put mental health first,” Biles told reporters at a press conference. “Because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” Biles did go on to compete and win a bronze medal on the balance beam during the second week of the games. Jamey Houle, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and the lead sports psychologist for Ohio State Athletics, says Biles set a precedent by deciding to withdraw from this week’s events.
There isn’t one single cause of depression, anxiety, stress, and other mood disorders, many factors contribute: genetics; family history; trauma; chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, migraines, sleep apnea, thyroid problems, and others; substance use disorder; poor nutrition; lack of exercise; relationship challenges; financial concerns; work pressures; and isolation.
In addition to these external causes, internal ones include personality traits such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, negative beliefs about oneself, and fear of failure. These factors often interact with each other and compound the effects of others.
Athletes are not immune to mental health disorders. In fact, due to the high pressured environments and extra stress put on the mind and body through training and completion mental health disorders are increased.
But nobody talks about it – up until recently.
The unique stressors elite athletes face to stay at the top of their game may place them at greater risk than other people for developing or exacerbating mental health disorders.
There are pressures from an early age to be successful, to be a starting player, and to be selected for scholarships. Later on, there are pressures to continue your success, to be profitable, and then to be under constant media scrutiny once you do reach that elite level. All of these are contributing factors.
The criticism from social media is increasing tremendously which results in even more pressure put on the athletes to perform at their best. This can be a huge contributing factor to mental health concerns.
Helping professional athletes navigate these stressors on and off the field has become more of a priority in recent years. Implementing personal mindfulness practices and working alongside sports psychologists is becoming more common practice within the athletic and sporting world.
Olympic Athletes such as Simone Biles, tennis star Naomi Osaka, and swimmer Michael Phelps, as well as many others, have opened up and spoken about their mental health struggles.
They are breaking the stigma surrounding mental health discussion and paving the way forward for people, athletes or not, to know that “it is okay to not be okay”.