Until recently, mental health and its relation to sport has been a widely understudied topic, says sociologist Michael Atkinson.
On the world’s biggest stage Simone Biles decided enough was enough, she joined the likes of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Naomi Osaki and turned the focus of sport to mental health.
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were going to be Biles’ second showing out. Before any events even took place, the American team, and Biles in particular, were fan favorites. Then Biles shook the world of sport. In an article from ESPN, Biles indicated that her, “mental [health] is not there.” Moments after the media caught wind of Biles’ reason for withdrawing, Twitter was bombarded with thousands of the world’s most popular athletes, amongst the many other people, voicing their opinions on Biles’ decision to drop out of the remaining Olympic Games.
CBC describes mental health as still being seen as a weakness by society, explaining why it was a decision looked at from so many different angles; however, the academic articles in support of elite athletes taking mental health breaks when necessary are very convincing. In a study by Sara Beable, Mark Fulcher, Arier C. Lee and Bruce Hamilton (SharpSports), 21% of athletes surveyed admitted to having symptoms of depression and of those 39 people, only 2 were on medication despite resources being so available to them.
Simone Biles chose her mental health even when the world expected her to perform in one of the worlds most watched competitions, ultimately starting a fire in the world of sport. Still the controversy about whether elite athletes should take mental health breaks in the midst of competition remains prominent. A study done in 2018 suggests the stigma around mental health is still very prevalent even in the sport world where it has been proven that physical performance is impacted greatly by mental health.