Fellow Team USA athletes show support for gymnast Simone Biles
After Simone Biles withdrew from the team and all-around finals because of mental health concerns, her fellow U.S. teammates voiced support.
Sandy Hooper, USA TODAY
In stepping away from Olympics competition this week, U.S. gymnast Simone Biles joined a generational tide of younger people showing a pandemic-weary world that mental well-being must be a priority for everyone, local counselors said.
“What she has done is one of the more courageous acts anyone can do,” said Chris Tuell, clinical director of addiction services at the Lindner Center for Hope in Mason. “It’s such an awesome example for other people, kids, people of color, women, and everyday people.”
“The biggest lesson from this is that it’s OK to say enough is enough. It’s OK to prioritize your own emotional health and mental well-being over other things,” said Dr. Courtney Cinko, a psychiatrist for children and teenagers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Heralded at 24 as “the greatest of all time” in gymnastics, Biles already holds five Olympic medals and brought great promise into the Tokyo games. Only weeks ago, she performed moves unheard of in her sport. A goat emoji was created in her honor (Greatest of All Time).
The Summer Games, delayed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, are underway without crowds in the stands and limited team support in venues. Last week, Biles struggled to qualify, and this week, she under rotated on a vault, then withdrew from the team contest and Thursday’s meet for the all-around medal. She is day to day for the four apparatus competitions.
She told reporters her body is not hurt, but her mind resisted her efforts to grasp the critical focus for her gravity-defying performances, where misjudgment can mean career-ending, possibly crippling injury.
Other young well-knowns have spoken this year about the psychological hazards of life powered by high expectations. Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, tennis star Naomi Osaka and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have publicly described the harm from the crushing pressure to perform.
But backlash, mostly from older men, has been fierce, calling Biles a quitter for declining to risk her life for a sporting event. But Cinko read the taunting as a sign of changing times.
“The millennial generation and our Gen Z, they can talk about mental health and are way more comfortable with it than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. It’s just how they grew up,” she said. “It’s a positive thing. The more we talk about it, the better we are all going to feel. It’s kind of the older generation who are so critical, so likely to punch at this.”
Tuell said revelations from celebrities can bust stigma over mental health. Biles “knows she has little girls watching her, all these people across the world watching her. She has said she has felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. So for her to come out and take care of herself, and how important it is to do that, is remarkable.”
Mental health monitors have found that the isolation and restriction of the coronavirus pandemic have triggered more depression, anxiety and anger. Tuell pointed out that 1 of 4 people in the United States this year will get a mental-health diagnosis.
Cinko said children have especially struggled through the pandemic. Biles could be a bridge for families, she said. If children want to talk about her, “Parents can encourage the conversation. They can ask, ‘you’re not feeling well? Well, what’s going on? Tell me more about that.’ Just be there. That’s the most important thing that parents can do.”
But it’s often hard for loved ones to know when something’s wrong, according to a study this week by Myriad Genetics, the Utah company that owns the Mason firm once known as Assurex Health. The research found nearly half of respondents said they are very confident that they would recognize signs of depression in a loved one. But when shown a list of possible symptoms, only 1 in 7 could identify them all.
Depression appears not only in changes of mental state but can have physical expression with headaches or head pain, digestion issues, sleep disturbances or changes in weight or appetite.
But the experts said a key tool is perspective. Tuell said that in a television interview this week, U.S. swimmer Caeleb Dressel said after a gold-medal performance that “he doesn’t want to be compared to anyone, because swimming is something he enjoys, and the medal doesn’t matter,” Tuell said. “That’s really cool.”
If you are experiencing a mental health challenge, reach out to:
- Mental Health Access Point, 513-558-8888.
- NAMI of Southwest Ohio, 513-351-3500.
- NAMI of Northern Kentucky, 800-273-8255.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255.