The Summer Olympics have come to an end, and the hundreds of competing athletes have made this year more memorable than ever after speaking up about their mental health. When watching these extraordinary athletes through a screen, what is seen is purely physical, and viewers usually fail to consider the mental strength it takes to compete at an Olympic level.
Simone Biles kicked off a movement when she decided to withdraw from the team and individual competition(s) in order to focus on her mental health.
Biles stated, “We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” As a gymnast, or any Olympic athlete in general, having a strong mind-body connection plays a huge role in their performance and competition. In an Instagram story, Biles wrote, “It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind and body in sync.”
Millions of people have struggled with mental health this year, and Biles wasn’t the only Olympian dealing with these problems. Jessica Bartley, director for mental health services for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, received an average of 10 requests every day during the Tokyo games to support many of the athletes’ mental health needs even before Biles withdrew from the Games.
Biles received an overwhelming amount of support from fans after making this decision, which inspired many other competing athletes to speak up about their own struggles. U.S. weightlifter, Kate Nye, recognized the strength it took for Biles to make that decision when she stated, “I could definitely relate to the overwhelming nature of sport. I’m of the opinion that you have to put yourself first. She should have done what was best for her, and she did.”
Alex Bowen, a member of the U.S. Water Polo Team, spoke up about prioritizing the mental health of Olympic athletes as well. He said to TIME, “Hopefully this reframes how people look at athletes. We are all human; the Olympics are about trying to become your best self. And it’s O.K. to get help to become your best self.”
While gold medalist Michael Phelps had previously brought some light to prioritizing mental health by opening up about his own depression, the Tokyo Olympics have definitely changed the way the media views these athletes as well as others worldwide.
Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with your thoughts on how the sports industry will deal with mental health priorities.