Should Olympians focus on mental health?
Simone Biles is not the first high profile athlete to publicly discuss their mental health issues. Recently, Naomi Osaka made news by withdrawing from the French Open in order to prioritize her mental health. Michael Phelps, arguably the most successful Olympian of all time, has long been an advocate for mental health due to his own struggles with ADHD and depression. In a recent article in Time, journalist Alice Park discussed the recent public discussion of mental health sparked by Simon Biles.
The Olympics often go hand in hand with crushing pressure, reported Park. Not only are the Olympics the culmination of a lifetime of work, they are the focus of much of the global population. An Olympian is held up as symbol of their nation’s hopes and expectations.
In some ways, an Olympian’s mental health issues are age related. Teens and young adults can be particularly vulnerable to mental illness, wrote Park. About one third of people aged 18 to 25 have been diagnosed with a mental illness within the past year. It is now common for young people to utilize crisis hotlines or online therapy. Athletes, like their peers in the general population, are becoming more open to seeking mental health services.
Although the actions of Simone Biles have likely inspired millions of young athletes to tend to their mental health needs, Park wrote that this is still far from the norm. Few athletes are able to take the time off needed to manage their mental health, without endangering their success as an athlete. For example, they might risk losing their starting spot if they took time off from competition or practice. However, Park pointed out that well-timed breaks could lead to a longer career and fewer mental scars.
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.