Advocacy for Mental Health in the Olympics
The Olympics are a prime stage for advocacy in all forms. It is is a pinnacle of competition and an exhibition on the peak performance of what the human body is capable of. This display that only comes around every four years is a massive feat as people continue to break records and persevere through what was once thought to be human limits.
However, while the physical triumphs of these world-class athletes are worthy of the spectacle, this competition is just as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. Nothing about pushing oneself is easy, and it is important to continue to monitor one’s mental wellness as they would their physical being.
Perhaps one is an athlete competing on the world’s largest stage. Maybe someone is balancing their own physical and mental wellbeing. Either way, being aware of one’s mental and emotional needs and advocating for mental health concerns is essential to creating a healthy lifestyle, regardless of what kind of field one may take in their daily life.
Highlighting the Discourse
Paying attention to one’s mental and emotional needs is an essential practice — one that was most recently highlighted due to Simone Biles’s decision to withdraw from the women’s team gymnastics finals while on the cusp of adding another medal to her already decorated career. While many onlookers may have been surprised at the news of this withdrawal, the sentiment may be commonly shared amongst athletes.
Even professional athletes who feel the pressure of competition every day, whether it is against opponents or themselves, are in a constant battle to maintain a healthy mindset and body. Decorated United States Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps understands the need for this balance as well. He came out in support of Biles’s decision to prioritize her mental health from a position of sympathy and understanding during an interview conducted on NBC.
Performing on a world stage with the weight of an entire nation on one’s back is a mentally overwhelming experience. There is no shortage of stress and pressure that comes with these expectations. Echoing Phelps’s sentiments, it is important to embrace Biles’s decision as an opportunity to continue drawing attention to mental health needs and advocating for personal mental and emotional wellness.
Understanding the Need for Advocacy and Mindfulness
An athlete suffering from a twisted ankle, a broken bone, muscle cramp, or other physical injury is a widely accepted reason to break from one’s training. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to embrace other strains that may be less visible. However, Biles’s impactful decision is a testament to the severity and need to address the equally as important mental side of competition.
Biles’s ability to be mindful and aware of her own mental state is a talent in and of itself. Her decision to prioritize her wellbeing is not something to be criticized, but championed. Mental health struggles can be just as detrimental to one’s daily life, goals, and routines as one’s physical limitations. Biles’s actions are a way to understand this on a global stage.
Anxiety, doubt, mental exhaustion, depression, stress, and more are all incredibly powerful things. While it is easy to talk about them separate from one’s other health needs, this is rarely the case. One’s mental state can directly affect their physical body as fatigue, aches, or exhaustion can all result from mental health complications.
Seeing one’s mental and physical health as two sides of the same body is paramount to embracing the need for mental health advocacy. Mental health awareness has been a topic of discourse due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Seeing this side of mental health is another example of the need to embrace mental health advocacy and raise a voice to the importance therein.
Not All Olympics Look the Same
While Biles’s decision is a testament to the stress that the worldwide stage can produce, her decision is a lesson to each person, even those who are not decorated, Olympic gymnasts. Each individual will have their own version of the Olympics throughout their lives — a time where they are met with the fiercest competition to reach their goals.
For some, this can be one’s battle with other professional endeavors, such as chasing promotions, respect, or authority while in the professional sphere. Others may see the hurdles in their path to personal goals as their greatest challenge, such as getting a book published or raising a child. The mental stresses can continue to inhibit one’s day in a very real way.
The ability to recognize the stress, prioritize one’s health over all else, and step back for the betterment of one’s wellbeing is essential. Regardless if one is under the beating lights on an Olympic beam competition or taking a day off from work to have a moment to rest, advocating for mental health is necessary throughout all spheres and walks of life.