Athletes finally putting mental health first

Simone Biles performs at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics which she withdrew from due to her mental health.

Photo by Elsa/ Getty Images.

Simone Biles performs at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics which she withdrew from due to her mental health.

Bella Christensen, Editor

Athletes are finally taking a look in the mirror and asking themselves, “Am I really okay?”. Major athletes such as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have realized that their mental health isn’t stable and decided to take time to better themselves. Mental health is a universal issue people often shrug off.

“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” psychology professor Alejandro Lleras says.

It’s proven that mental health breaks can actually help improve your mental health. Over the past year, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have come to the realization that they need a mental health break. 

Biles publicly withdrew herself from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics to put her “mind and body” first. She had qualified for the finals in every gymnastics event and was expected to go on to compete in individual all-around, floor exercise, beam, uneven bars and vault for gold.

“I wasn’t in the right headspace to compete, so I can’t be mad,” Biles continued. “I made the safest decision and it took a lot of courage.”

Previously, Biles won five medals in Rio de Janeiro in the 2016 Olympics and had a chance to win six at the 2021 Olympics. Not only is she the star of the women’s gymnastics team but also one of the biggest names on Team USA. 

Japanese tennis star, Naomi Osaka withdrew herself from the French Open and then refused to participate in mandatory news conferences.  Osaka’s decision has led organizations to help safeguard their athlete’s mental health. 

Former Women’s Sports Foundation president Julie Foudy, a two-time Olympic champion and former captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, said, “It sparked a discussion that’s long overdue. I think most organizations, leagues and team owners do a terrible job of addressing this, even though you have athletes who are speaking up more and more and having the courage to say, ‘I have some things I’m dealing with and need help.’ Organizations can’t just keep sweeping [it under the rug] or threatening.”

Osaka is influencing and encouraging other athletes to come forward about mental health. Her actions are a “wake-up call” to athletes, too, said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, an athlete-advocacy group founded in 2001.

Mental health is something that isn’t always taken seriously, especially by younger people. But following our professional heroes who risk their livelihoods, it can serve as a good reminder of each others struggles. If you’re struggling with your mental health make sure to reach out to someone for help. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center. In addition, you can use the SAFE2SAY phone tip line 1-844-SAF2SAY (723-2729).