24-year-old, American gymnast Simon Biles made a serious statement on mental wellbeing at the ongoing Olympics. She decided to take into consideration of her mental health and withdrew from multiple events. This has also brought to the forefront of much pressure athletes function under.
Biles is a five-time all-around World Champion, five-time World Floor Exercise Champion, three-time World Balance Beam Champion, two-time World Vault Champion, a seven-time United States National All-Around Champion, and also a member of the gold medal-winning American teams at 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019 world Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
What exactly happened at the Olympics?
Following her qualification performance, Biles posted on Instagram that she was feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders. Post which, she did not complete her routine. Instead of doing 2.5 twists, she would settle with 1.5 twists. Subsequently, she left the competition citing mental health issues.
On 28 July 2021, Biles took the decision to withdraw from the finals of the individual- all-around competition, citing mental health concerns again. Post this she received a lot of support from athletes and celebrities around the globe.
Supporting her decision, singer Justin Bieber took to Instagram to pen a heartfelt note. He went on to say he was “proud” of Biles. “Nobody will ever understand the pressures you face! I know we don’t know each other but I’m so proud of the decision to withdraw.”
How real is the issue about degrading mental health in athletes?
Among professional athletes, data shows that more than a third of them suffer from a mental health crisis that may turn into stress, eating disorders, burnout, depression or anxiety. Over the years, several sportspersons have also come out to speak about mental illnesses. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, NBA player Kevin Love are some of them who are telling stories and inspiring others to seek help as well.
What can athletes do if they feel mentally unwell?
While it feels scary, there are small steps you can take to help your mental health. You must be comfortable with your surroundings to be able to speak with your peers, coaches, or support staff. Make appointments with a therapist to help you identify your source of stress and help you manage it. Make sure to take out time apart from your training to just be mindful and release the pressure in the process. You can start a hobby, go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, whatever brings you joy and you don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself.
Last but not the least, take your time to heal and as long as you want.
Update: Simon Bile made her long-awaited return today and won a bronze medal in the beam final.