Mental Health Matters: Yes, Simone Biles made the right decision at Olympics 2021
As a mental health advocate, my heart ached for gymnast Simone Biles after she withdrew from multiple Olympic events last week, where she could’ve easily racked up another gold medal.
She must’ve been in a terrible head space to do that, and it has to be respected. I watched her warm-up before the team event, and you could tell she wasn’t mentally there. And for her, not being in tune with her body and emotions can be dangerous.
I think it came as a shock to people how she matter-of-fact she was in reporting her flailing mental health and even more of a shock how she prioritized herself above the games. There IS more to life than gymnastics, even if it’s the Olympics. That’s how it should be. I’m so thankful for her taking a stand and bringing more awareness to how important mental health is.
I’ve never been to the Olympics. I can’t even do a cartwheel, but I have many times sacrificed my mental health for work, an event, my kids, etc. And every single time it happened, I burned myself out and fell down deeper in the hole where my depression and anxiety lurk. It’s hard to get out of and sometimes you don’t realize you’re in the hole until it’s too late. A setback to my mental health could leave me in bed for days, using unhealthy coping skills or worse, in a depressive episode that could last months or years.
But it doesn’t have to get to that point. We shouldn’t have to have a “mental breakdown” in order for her to be heard, taken seriously or receive treatment. Biles just showed us that even the best — strongest — athletes in the world get down. That our mental health should never pay the price, ever. And all the little girls and boys who look up to her bore witness to that, too, which is monumental. Maybe the younger generations will finally do away with the stigma that’s associated with mental illness.
Biles is doing her part in ending that stigma but are we doing ours? I urge you to take care of yourself, take breaks, take naps, take your medicine. Take an active role in prioritizing your health. Show up for yourself because you believe you’re worth it because you are. And even if you’re not mentally ill, your mental health is still important.
Biles is not the greatest of all time because she’s an amazing gymnast — she’s the G.O.A.T. because she always lives her truth even if it means disappointing others (including the world glued to the TV). She speaks the truth even though it makes others feel uncomfortable, but she does it to give a voice to others, especially those marginalized.
The best part is that she unknowingly gave permission to those struggling to speak up for themselves as she stood up for herself. I’m done hearing suck it up, grin and bear it or take one for the team. No more. We are important, our feelings are valid and mental health is just as important as physical health.
Using her voice and helping others find theirs is the greatest kind of strength. We all can learn from Biles. She has used her platform to highlight mental health, and people are paying attention. The time is now. Let’s normalize having a bad day and taking a break in the name of mental health. Let’s openly talk about our disorders, whatever they may be. Let’s take pride in taking care of ourselves first. Let’s leave the guilt and secrecy behind.
By doing so, we continue her legacy, and it’s worth all the gold medals in the world.
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.
Now more than ever we need to take care of our mental health. Opinion Contributor Heather Loeb discusses why and explores other important mental health topics in this special series.