Last week American gymnast Simone Biles chose to withdraw from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and put an end to her Olympic dream of becoming the most decorated male or female gymnast in history, after a medical evaluation determined that she was not ready to compete. The decision was taken following the USA star choosing to withdraw herself from the earlier women's team event, after deciding to prioritise her wellbeing over her sporting aspirations. We explore Simone's brave decision, as well as the importance of prioritising your mental health within this dedicated MiBlog.
Leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles was at the forefront of a lot of media coverage, with the opportunity to make history for team USA. The 24 year old had previously established herself as the most decorated gymnast of all time in the US, with a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. Therefore with the opportunity to compete in several events, Tokyo provided a chance for Simone to break Vitaly Scherbo's record of 33 World and Olympic medals, and thus become the most decorated male or female gymnast in history. With expectations rising, so too was the pressure on this young woman's shoulders, and after only a few days at the competition, the decision was taken for the USA star to cut her 2020 Olympics short, after mental pressures meant it was impossible for her to compete.
This is the second occurrence within as many months where a young athlete has withdrew from an international competition due to mental health pressures. Last month, during the Women's fourth round at Wimbledon, British wunderkind, Emma Raducanu, retired during the second set of her match on No.1 Court, having experienced difficulties breathing. Since these two incidents, several other athletes have spoken out on their experiences, with fellow Olympian Simone Manuel, stating she had had been suffering with depression, anxiety, and insomnia as a result of overtraining syndrome. This thus demonstrates the vast amount of pressure these individuals live with on a daily basis, having endeavoured to push their mind and body to the absolute limit in the pursuit of excellence.
With more coverage on this issue, mental health professionals are applauding the brave athletes who have spoken of their troubles, and praised them for understanding that their minds are part of their bodies, and hence should be cared for with the same diligence. Ben Miller, a psychologist and president of Well Being Trust, said in a statement 'the sooner we are able to consistently connect our mind and body, and not always see them as separate, the better we will be as a society'. These sentiments were further echoed by Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, who praised Biles for using her platform to put mental health front and center in Americans' minds. She said "due to the chilling effect of that [mental health] stigma, especially in the sports world, we often only learn about mental health's role in such a decision through rumours or media reports, but today, Simone's transparency enabled mental health to take its rightful place in the public discourse'.
With the prevalence of mental health pressures on athletes having been highlighted extensively within the passing week, it's also important to consider the daily struggles people from all walks of life often face. The Mental Health Foundation estimates that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem, which is unsurprising when you consider that mental health problems are considered to be one of the main causes of overall disease burden worldwide. Therefore, with so many of us struggling with these issues, what can we do to tackle them? Well thankfully, now that the stigma surrounding mental health, and the discussion of mental health problems is gradually eroding away, there is a wealth of support networks in place to help those in need. For us in the UK, the NHS have a dedicated mental health helpline for use in a crisis, as well as a wealth of information on different mental health conditions, and how to locate a mental health charity within your local vicinity. So whether you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, help can be found here.
From the brave decision made by Simone Biles to prioritise her wellbeing, even when on the brink of creating history for herself, and her nation, we can all learn that nothing is more important than our own mental health. Unlike a physical injury, mental health problems may not be visible to the naked eye, but that does not mean they are any less important, and hence should be treated just the same as if a physical injury where to be sustained. Therefore, much like if you were to break your leg you would seek medical attention right away rather than leaving the condition to fester and worsen, if you find yourself in a mental health crisis it is just as important that you seek help from either those around you, or a medical professional. The stigma around mental health is diminishing day by day, and with brave young women like Simone Biles, Emma Raducanu and Simone Manuel speaking up, we can only hope that more people will seek help during their time of need.