Simone Biles’ 2020 Olympics looked different than anyone could’ve imagined. Widely expected to sweep several medal events, the decorated gymnast’s fortunes suddenly changed when she experienced a case of the twisties. Fearful that the phenomenon would leave her disoriented as she performed risky skills, Biles stepped back from the competition to focus on her mental health.
While waiting, she trained and watched Team USA cheer from the sidelines. She returned to the balance beam this week, with a modified routine. The third-place victory surprised Biles, who told the media: “I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal. “I was going out there to do this for myself.”
Biles made the decision to prioritise her mental health in order that she could compete. This allowed for the Olympics to be what they should have been, a celebration of our complex humanity and our greatest accomplishments.
Many viewers don’t want to see the Olympics discuss mental health or well-being. They view these topics as distractions and only consider them when there is victory. In a world that is rarely blessed with such opportunities, the belief that we can suppress whatever troubles us, opening up doors to greatness, seems comforting. We often struggle to find happiness in every opportunity we are given, and sometimes we fight with ourselves. Sometimes we may be successful. Sometimes we fail. It is an honor to witness that from one of our greatest rivals, it unfolds with vulnerability and honesty on the international stage.
Some viewers would prefer that the Olympics be free from discussions on mental health or well-being.
The Olympics sells its viewers a lot of emotional stories that show how people overcome adversity. This heartbreak can be caused by injury, poor luck, trauma loss or any other challenge that many people face. It could also lead to anxiety and stress. These narratives are designed to show that an athlete can overcome their “demons” and win a medal or, in some cases, gold. This gives us all hope, that we can also rise above our situations if we work hard enough.
Reality is very different. Our suffering is rarely completely behind us. It becomes part of us as we learn to accept it. Imagine an Olympics in which all the athletes feel empowered to talk about their mental illness or struggles without being labeled “weak” and “a quitter.” It would be great if athletes could speak less about their struggles with depression as though it were something they had to overcome and more about the ways it coexists alongside their sporting ambitions. People with mental illnesses can choose the language that is most true to them, but it’s important to question a system that reduces all of life to a fight in which one side wins.
Biles and other 2020 Olympics athletes have shown us how that looks. Raven Saunders, who won silver in shot put for the U.S., has been open about experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings. When Saunders crossed her arms above her head on the medal podium as a protest symbol, the gesture was meant to make people from oppressed and marginalized communities feel seen, she explained.
“Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health,” she said. We understand there are many people who look up to us and want to know if they speak up.
Katherine Nye (a Team USA weightlifter) has stated that learning she had bipolar II disorder helped her in her career. Her well-being improved and she was able to use self-care and effective treatment. “I hope that I can show people what it means to be bipolar…” she told Yahoo! Sports
Audiences love these complex stories. The outpouring of love for Biles made that clear. Her loudest critics, who called her a selfish quitter for withdrawing from competition, were likely in the minority. Reputation, which analyzes digital platform consumer feedback, looked at Biles-related Twitter mentions. It found that most of those that were shared or liked the most supported the gymnast. Trending hashtags and adjectives from the day she stepped down until the day after her bronze medal win included #mentalhealthmatters, #goat, best, and proud. Similar support was found for Nye and Saunders as well as former Olympian Michael Phelps who commented on the games and is an advocate for mental health.
Olympians should be complex human beings and not superhumans.
Solomon Thomas, an NFL player knows from firsthand how important it is to talk about psychological and emotional well-being. When he’s discussed the experience of losing his older sister to suicide, and the subsequent depression and suicidal feelings he endured, his phone lights up with social media comments, texts, and direct messages from people expressing their relief and thanks to hear that someone like him, a defensive tackle for the Las Vegas Raiders, knows how they feel. Thomas, who founded a nonprofit suicide prevention organization, says that Biles prioritizing her mental health and physical safety demonstrated “true strength and vulnerability.”
What we learned from this competition should be reflected in the next Olympics. The next Olympics should reflect the complexity of Olympians and not expect them to be superhumans who can provide instant victory for all those they encounter. Do not simplify their stories to fit into a singular, unforgiving story. If they choose to openly share their mental health issues, don’t treat them as plot points. Instead, consider these experiences as part of who they are as people and competitors.
Thomas sees this as a future for professional athletes even though he isn’t an Olympian.
He says, “I see it as a place where people can share their vulnerabilities and be honest with one another.” We are all much more alike than we realize. Each of us is struggling to find our way.
Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 for confidential, free support if you need to speak to someone, or if you are having suicidal thoughts. To connect to a counselor, text CRISIS (741741) Call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950 NAMI Monday to Friday, 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. ET or by emailing [email protected]. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Below is a list of international resources.
Publited Sat, 07 August 2021 at 12:22.35 +0000