People worldwide woke up shocked Wednesday, for a second consecutive day, to find out that the face of the United States Women’s gymnastics team, Simone Biles, had withdrawn from the individual event after sitting out the gymnastics team competition, citing mental health concerns.
Biles, the 4-time gold medalist, at first participated in the team event on Tuesday, but backed out midway after not feeling 100% mentally. “It’s been really stressful these Olympics games, I think just as a whole, without an audience …” Biles said in a press conference after the event.
She will “continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s individual event finals,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement, adding, “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”
The Ohio native took a stand in support of mental health, joining a long list of olympians who have done the same like gymnast Sam Mikulak, who was diagnosed with depression after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed last year, and tennis player Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open last year after mental health concerns from the press.
These latest developments serve to remind fans that the athletes are humans too and face a lot of expectations to perform on an international stage. According to a study from 2019, up to 35% of athletes deal with a mental health issue in some form from eating disorders to depression.
Biles became the face of U.S Women’s gymnastics during her breakout performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a star, she faces a lot of pressure.
“Simone is going in the number one story going into the olympics and I saw a headline the other day saying she is going to win 6 gold medals … and it’s really hard [and] it’s so much pressure,” said Aly Raisman, former gymnast from the 2016 Rio Women’s Gymnastics team, on NBC’s Today Show.
Part of the pressure of competing for the American gymnastics team stems from the history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in the USA Gymnastics Organization, including that from former national team doctor Larry Nassar. Both Raisman and Biles came forward as survivors of Nassar’s abuse in 2018.
Biles, Osaka and many other Olympians are showing the world that we need to prioritize mental health and the work begins with recognizing that there is a problem which needs to be addressed. There are local, national and international resources available to athletes and young people who need help.
Here are some resources for those who may be experiencing mental health issues:
1. United for Global Mental Health
2. National Institute of Mental Health
3. Mental Health California