Can We Move Beyond Describing Actions to Take Care of Our Mental Health Courageous?

Simone BilesAs I read news that Simone Biles had withdrawn from competing in the all-around competition in the Olympic Games, several thoughts came to mind.  I felt admiration for this young, black, female athlete, who was prioritizing her mental health needs above pursuit of Olympic Gold. I’m thankful that she took a stand and brought more awareness to just how important mental health is.

The announcement about Biles came on the heels of other females athletes making similar decisions to prioritize their mental health. Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old tennis star who is the world’s highest-paid female athlete, withdrew from the French Open after being fined for declining interviews to protect her mental wellbeing and Sha’Carri Richardson, a sprinter, was suspended from the USA Track and Field team for smoking cannabis while processing the grief of her biological mother’s death.

In the ensuing days, reading support for Simone Biles, I was pleased that so many people were championing her decision to focus on her emotional health. For a moment, I felt as though we rounded a corner in history, where mental health will be viewed at the level of importance that it should be.  But there is so much more to take from this moment in history.  We need to also consider the enormous pressure that young athletes face and at what cost.  But for Simone Biles, the pressures were amplified.

Yes, Simone Biles had the pressure of being the GOAT (greatest gymnast of all time) on her small frame’s shoulders, but even more, she had the added pressure of being the face of a movement against sexual assault within the gymnastic community, and of being a black woman. The attention given to Simone over that past five years and her ability to captivate the world in understanding the trauma she and her teammates faced, seems to suggest that her duty moved beyond her fellow gymnastics to a broader community of survivors. 

I hope that this strong, talented, black woman finds the peace and health that she deserves.  I hope that other survivors find encouragement to take care of their emotional needs. I hope that people who are struggling with their mental health seek support and space to heal. I hope we can get to a place where Simone Biles would be seen as extraordinary for her talent, but ordinary for taking care of mental health. 

Biles certainly has encouraged us to talk about mental health and not to simply “push through it.”  I urge you to take her example and care of yourself, connect with others, and ask for help. We all need to prioritize our health.

2 thoughts on “Can We Move Beyond Describing Actions to Take Care of Our Mental Health Courageous?

  1. Meryl Cassidy August 6, 2021 / 10:42 am

    I’m completely aligned with this-and would add, I was disappointed in comments about Simone Biles ‘quitting’-I felt she was doing things on her terms and in her way and quitting was not a word that remotely described the strength I saw. There are many things about elite athletics that are counter to good mental health-and we need to be aware of the real risks this kind of intense pressure brings.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Matt McCluskey August 6, 2021 / 10:52 am

    Great read Colleen. Simone Biles as well as the other athletes are very courageous as we know. Are you familiar with Robin Lehner from the NHL? If not, he is an NHL Goaltender that played for the New York Islanders (my favorite team btw), now plays for Las Vegas. A few years ago he disclosed that he has Bipolar Disorder and has been very vocal and honest about his challenges with Mental Health. To my knowledge he is the first NHL payer to do so and has been very effective in raising awareness of Mental Health among athletes as well as us “non-athletes.” It is always good for MH Awareness (despite the challenges the individual is going through) when a star athlete, superstar, etc humanizes and normalizes their mental health to bring about awareness. I have seen so many positive responses and increased awareness in the hockey community alone from Robin Lehner’s advocacy which to be honest, I was not expecting from the hockey community. Hopefully the awareness and humanizing continues. -Matt

    Liked by 2 people

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