‘Struggling in silence’: Shining a spotlight on athlete mental health

Japan 2020

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Olympics gymnastics team competition due to mental health concerns is putting a spotlight on the mental health struggles athletes deal with.  

“I say put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to,” Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles said.  

Biles isn’t the only athlete who has stepped aside from competition to focus on their mental health. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open and skipped Wimbledon to do the same.  

The trend of elite athletes using their platform to discuss this topic is making a difference in the way people feel about sharing their struggles. Dr. Tony Kemmochi is a sport psychologist at Intermountain Healthcare. He said he has seen more athletes feel comfortable with sharing their struggles because the topic is becoming increasingly common.  

University of Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham talked about the importance of mental health during PAC-12 media days Tuesday.  

“We try to make it a point to our players that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek mental health assistance, I mean, that’s part of life. I mean, it’s the same as being physically ill. If you need to get help and see somebody, there’s no shame or no stigma attached to that,” Whittingham said.  

Decisions like Biles’ are not only being embraced, but appreciated too.  

“I’d say I’m personally excited and I really appreciate athletes that have been courageous to do this. And the fact that the general public has been showing more interest in athletes mental health because that’s one area we overlooked for many years. So as a result, many athletes were struggling in silence, but now they actually get to talk about their struggles, and we get to support them,” Dr. Tony Kemmochi said.  

Utah Senator Mitt Romney also voiced his support tweeting, “I love and admire Simone Biles and our Olympians. Beyond their determination and sacrifice, they evidence the greatness of the human spirit, in victory and in defeat. I take pride in them, not so much for the medals they win as for the grace, humanity, and character of their hearts.  

Dr. Tony Kemmochi said the pressure elite athletes like Biles are under can be detrimental to your health.  

“When it comes to mental health, we all of a sudden feel like ‘oh there has to be another reason than that’ but in reality, as our body can get injured…so can our mind. And if we leave injury untreated, it just gets worse to the point that it can’t function anymore,” Dr. Tony Kemmochi said.  

That is why Biles’ decision to take a stand and prioritize herself is being applauded by many.  

“I hope that we as a society can recognize how important vulnerability is and that’s a great way to be a role model to the younger generations that sharing expressing our struggles doesn’t make us weak; in fact, it’s a brave thing to do,” Dr. Tony Kemmochi said. 

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