By Kimberley Lee, Vice President of Resource Development & Branding, MHA
Grace, strength, and pain are not uncommon attributes of a seasoned gymnast, but to see Simone Biles exhibit them in her announcement that mental-health concerns had prompted a pause in her participation in the Tokyo Olympics was extraordinary.
The 24-year-old American gymnast who has won more than two dozen world and Olympic medals in less than a decade had the courage to admit to herself and share with the world that her “headspace” was not where it needed to be for her to safely and successfully perform her pioneering moves as one of the most celebrated athletes at the Games.
She stepped aside after struggling with a vault to allow “the girls” — her Olympic teammates — to go on to capture the silver in the team final on July 27 and for her to assess her mental health on a daily basis.
The withdrawal from the event was not what anyone had expected of Biles, who acknowledged she herself was “super frustrated” by it. Yet, her courage in making her mental health a priority and being vocal about it has been applauded by many, including those of us whose work is dedicated to helping people recognize the importance of mental health in their lives.
It is said that more than half of people with mental-health disorders fail to seek treatment out of such concerns as losing their job or being treated differently. MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center works remotely as well as on site with individuals, families, and couples to address behavioral- and mental-health issues ranging from substance use to psychiatric disorders.
Having accomplished young women like Biles, considered by many to be the greatest female gymnast to date, and 23-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open in May, speak out about the pressures and expectations on them and the collective impact on their mental health gives others the perspective that no one is alone when it comes to inner trauma and that it is OK to get help.
“We have to protect our body and our mind,” Biles told reporters at one point after her withdrawal from the team final. “It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”
She also acknowledged that taking care of herself allowed those around her to offer their support and to pull together for the best outcome. After the July 27 team event, Biles said during a news conference that she “just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness.” She added that she “knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job.”
She added that “I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for kind of my screw-ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that. So, I just decided that those girls need to go and do the rest of our competition.”
Speaking out about how we are feeling emotionally requires strength and shows courage. Recognizing and addressing our mental health by seeking the support of a mental-health professional is an important first step to feeling better and living our best lives — no matter who you are.