The Mental Health Struggles That Athletes Face

At the end of the day, athletes are still humans, so why don't we treat them as such. Let's talk about how we can do better by not pressurising athletes.
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Let's Talk About The Mental Health Struggles That Athletes Face - And Why We Should Do Better With Not Pressuring Athletes
Image Source: St. Louis American Newspaper

As family and friends gather around the television to watch the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, excited and ready to see Team USA crush it, we should remember the athletes getting ready for the biggest performance of their professional careers. They too are excited but also under immense pressure to succeed and bring home the gold. And if they are like athletes Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka, the pressure is even bigger because of their high-profile status.

The topic of mental health has been on everyone’s mind after seeing gymnast Simone Biles withdraw from the team final and individual-all around competitions just a few days ago. The reason for the withdrawal was not physical but dealt with her mental well-being. In her own words, Biles is quoted as saying that her, “mind and body are simply not in sync.”

It begs the question, why don’t we give more attention to the mental health issues that plague athletes before, during, and after the Olympics? We unfairly put pressure on these athletes to do their very best to the point we forget their human beings putting their bodies through rigorous hours of training. It’s a discussion that must be had as too many Olympians and non-Olympian’s struggle with depression. 

Let's be honest, you're probably like me and don't pay attention to 90% of the sports featured in the Olympics. It's only when this event comes along every four years, we decide to cheer and scream for Team USA. Once the Olympics are over, we go back to our everyday lives, forgetting the people who trained their bodies to deliver their best performance for this one glorious moment.

Imagine how these performers feel when they go back home, worn out and ready to finally rest their bodies but they can't because they've got post-depression blues. In comparison, think of it as your four-year journey in college. You've spent 4-6 years studying various subjects all to graduate with a degree in a specific field, and once you've achieved that degree, you're left with the "what nows"? You're left to wonder, who am I now that I've graduated?

Professional athletes face that identity crisis all the time, especially after a monumental event such as the Olympics. And when they cry out for help, they're looked upon as weak because they're supposed to be strong and not need to ask for help. And that mentality needs to change.

Why are mental health issues that countless athletes struggle with glossed over so easily? And why are they expected to keep it to themselves and "get over it?" It isn't fair to these athletes to treat them like machines that never break down.

They are still humans at the end of the day who need to take time for themselves and get the help needed to get back into a positive mental state. Looking at how Simone Biles has gotten worldwide support about her decision to withdraw from because of her mental health is very telling to me. It shows that many athletes also feel the same way and unfortunately despite asking for help, don't receive it.

We've seen it with Olympians such as Jeret "Speedy" Peterson and Steven Holcomb, famous athletes who suffered from depression and tragically took their own lives. Something needs to be done to make sure athletes have the resources to get help, and most importantly, be allowed to take mental health breaks as needed.

The idea for this article initially stemmed from watching this documentary on HBO called The Weight of Gold. Weight of Gold focused on exploring the mental health challenges that Olympians face. Because of COVID-19, the postponement of the Olympics games in Tokyo forced athletes to evaluate the question of "What now?" After training for over four years, they were faced with the difficult decision on whether to continue to train or take a step back and see where that leads them.

Those who continued to train were faced with the various lockdowns across the United States and had to use whatever tools were available to train for their respective sports. The pandemic further heightened the mental struggles of said athletes without a major competition to focus on and made them start to question who they were as individuals outside the sport. One of the athletes featured in the film was decorated Olympian Michael Phelps.

I still remember being in awe of Phelps watching him in the last two Olympics constantly smash records and wowing the world with his talent. Sometimes it seems impossible to imagine the feats he could accomplish in the water!

He too struggled with distinguishing Michael Phelps the Olympic swimmer from Michael Phelps the non-swimmer. After decades with one continuous identity, I can't imagine how that must've been for him, struggling to find yourself after accomplishing so much.

We must remember that athletes are human beings first before they are sportsmen and sportswomen. So as you're watching the last few weeks of Olympics games and observing these incredible athletes put on great performance after performance, remember that it doesn't matter about the medal count. It doesn't matter if they don't receive a medal. And it doesn't matter if they decided to withdraw from the competition for their mental health. They are doing it for their own safety so be respectful of their decisions.

Fan of literary fiction novels, green tea, roller skating, and watching dog videos.

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