Simon Biles calls attention to athletes’ mental health issues

HIGH FLYER. Gymnast Simone Biles performs a routine on the bars at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Biles has received a lot of criticism for her performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Fernando Frazão (Creative Commons)

HIGH FLYER. Gymnast Simone Biles performs a routine on the bars at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Biles has received a lot of criticism for her performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Recently, athlete Simone Biles had to drop out of several events at the Tokyo Olympics because of her mental health. Most people thought the reason Biles was dropping out of the competition was because she was just too nervous to perform and couldn’t handle the pressure. However, she dropped out because her mental health was suffering severely.

Lots of athletes have mental health issues. The reasons the mental health of athletes suffers include pressure to perform, injuries and drastic mistakes.

At the Olympics, Biles was suffering from a disconnect between her body and her mind.  Her body was capable of doing more than her mind knew. She was aware that if her mind held her back, it could be very dangerous and cause her to get severely injured. Gymnasts call this mental block the twisties.

That is why she made the decision to not participate in many of her events. She did not want to hold her teammates back and cause her team to lose. She wanted what was best for the team.

People were critical of Biles because they thought she was being selfish, but she was actually doing what was best for America in the long run.

A physical injury seems to be easier to understand for many people than mental health troubles.  People often think physical injuries are worse than mental health issues, but usually it is the opposite.

The public was in general way too harsh on Biles. Athletes at the Olympic level have so much pressure to be the best in the world that it can cause them to have mental issues.

Michael Phelps is a champion swimmer who has been very open about his struggles with depression and mental health.  He feels that making people more aware of the problem will help them understand it.  He was very supportive of Biles and tried to make people aware of what she was going through.

Naomi Osaka is an elite tennis player who withdrew from high level competitions in order to focus on her mental health. She simply had to step back to protect herself.  If she hadn’t withdrawn and taken care of herself, she might have faced lifelong issues. Just like Biles, she prioritized her mental health.

Some of the stress on athletes in Tokyo probably came from COVID-19 and all of the cases in the city at the time.  COVID added yet another stress level for the athletes to deal with.

They had already worked so hard and were prepared for 2020, but the Olympics were delayed, which ruined what they had worked for the past 4 years.  This year, they knew that getting COVID could mean the end of their Olympic careers.

Biles has explained to the media that for an athlete, physical health is mental health. She felt she had no control over her body, how or where she would land after a flip and no knowledge of where she was in the air. Because of this mental block her body was unable to perform physically.

No one can quite understand how dangerous Biles’s situation was unless they have experienced it. Her mind simply refused to do what her body was capable of.

Mental health issues can be very serious not just for elite Olympic athletes, but other athletes, too. Many athletes around the world, elite or not, struggle from mental illness. High profile athletes like Biles, who are willing to talk about mental illness, help these athletes know that someone understands and that someone is on their side.

Some people feel as though the athletes who suffer from mental health problems are not trying their hardest and are being selfish. That’s simply not true. They are trying to help their countries win at the Olympics and be successful, which is a lot of pressure. These athletes can’t just stop having mental health issues.

Sometimes they need therapy. This can take time, and often they will not participate in the Olympics again. The public just does not realize how excruciatingly difficult dealing with mental health issues can be for athletes.

Biles had a difficult run at the Olympics this year, but by making the difficult choice to talk about what she was going through, she helped many people begin to understand the seriousness and dangers of mental illness.

Thanks to Simone Biles, most people now know that good mental health is as important as good physical health for athletes.