Olympic Games

Simone Biles opens up the conversation about mental health

The most watched and seemingly perfect athlete in the 2021 Olympics sets an important and inspiring example to prioritize mental well-being

It can’t be an easy thing to decide to put your mental health before the expectations of the world. As Olympic athletes, they are encouraged to focus on being tough and letting it go, being perfect and not letting people down.

Simone Biles amongst high-profile athletes to speak about mental health

Though Biles is not the first Olympic athlete to talk openly about mental health, she is certainly the first to have pulled out of a competition in the middle because of it, which is an important distinction. She knew that it would not be healthy to continue, and so she reassessed and decided against it.

WNBA player for Australia, Liz Cambridge, dropped out of the Olympics just one week before the start. She said that she was relying on medication to control her anxiety about being in a Covid bubble away from her family and friends.

Sha’Carri Richardson, American sprinter, also spoke about issues she was dealing with before the Olympics. She was banned from the Games for using marijuana, which she said she used to help ease the pain of losing her mother on top of the pressure of performing well.

23-time gold medal winner, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has spoken openly about mental health issues he has experienced in the past. He talked about having suicidal thoughts after the 2012 Olympics after battling ongoing depression. After watching what Biles was going through, he said that it broke his heart. “We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect,” Phelps said. “So yes, it’s okay to not be okay.”

Though the topic of mental health is becoming more widely talked about, it has been a taboo in sports for a long time. Even more so in Olympic sports, where the athletes are the top in the world, pressure is high, and everyone is watching. But Biles, who has been center stage this Olympics, has been an inspiration as a leader in prioritizing mental health.

After withdrawing from the competition on Tuesday, the American gymnasts went on to win the silver medal. Biles said she knew she was not in a good headspace before the competition began. “I had to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health,” she said. “It was like fighting all those demons.”

As if the world didn’t admire Biles already, she just gave us another very different reason. Though she could have easily apologized for withdrawing, she didn’t, and that is an important detail. It shows that she recognizes the importance it holds to take care of your mental health, and that it isn’t something to ever apologize for - regardless of others’ expectations. She gives us a perfect example of strength: knowing when to take a step back.