A few years ago, heck, even the last Olympic Games, it was unheard of that an athlete would withdraw from the competition due to their mental health. The stigma around our mental health has forced people to lie about why they can’t come into work, saying they feel physically ill instead, but recently with Naomi Osaka’s elimination after not knowing how to deal with the pressure of the games, and Simone Biles’ decision to step back from the gymnastics final, the stigma is changing. To have national recognition by strong, talented women athletes sets the stage for conversations around mental health and will most definitely have positive effects for not only athletes but everyone.
COVID-19 and the Olympic Games
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a wave of anxiety while we slowly move back into more normalcy, and for the Olympic athletes, I can only imagine the stress they must endure competing in a time like this. Both Biles and Osaka had commented on how the constant lockdowns and isolation during the past 18 months has affected them and their mental health. It isn’t outrageous that they decided to take a step back for their own sake and safety.
I think now more than ever it’s crucial that we maintain and protect our mental and physical health. Being told to “get over” things or “toughen up” is not the answer to our anxieties or feelings of depression that millions if not billions of people around the world are feeling collectively.
Mental and Physical Health
As a former athlete myself, it is such an amazing thing to see Olympians, especially women, speak out about the importance of mental health in sports. This is a conversation that I never really heard about growing up, but it’s so important for your mental health to be in a good place to compete, not just for the sake of our minds but our bodies as well. Forcing something upon yourself when you just aren’t in the right headspace is never good or healthy, and I think Naomi and Simone have both played a huge role in changing the way that athletes approach their mental health in the coming years.
After Simone Biles announced she would be withdrawing from the Olympic finals, many were quick to judge and had some harsh words for her, Charlie Kirk being one of them. Of the few who did have negative things to say about her decision, they all said things along the lines of Biles being “weak” and how she had “brought shame to her country”, both things that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a lot of courage to do what Biles did, especially knowing she would receive comments and backlash like this for putting her mental health first. Especially in gymnastics, Bile’s highlighted how important it is to be mentally present in order to avoid accidents and injuries.
Prioritizing mental health as much as our physical health is something that will be far more important in the future than I think it has ever been, and Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have been on the frontlines of this movement.