A Champion for Mental Health
Mental health has taken center stage this Olympic season, thanks in part to a few brave athletes who have modeled what it means to pay attention and provide space for self-care. No case has received more visibility than that of Simone Biles, who made headlines due to her decision to withdraw from the gymnastic finals to protect her mental wellbeing.
Her announcement arrives at the heels of professional tennis player Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from both the French Open and Wimbledon in light of her own mental health struggles. Biles has said that she was inspired by Osaka to speak out about her own issues. For young people navigating through their own personal struggles, both of these athletes have sent a powerful message about speaking up and reaching out for support.
“These young women have modeled that it is okay to prioritize your mental health. And that it is important do the things that you need to do in order to take care of yourself,” says Brooke Ransom-Burr, SAY’s Director of Counseling. “In my opinion, that is more powerful than winning a gold medal.”
Biles, at 24 years of age, and Osaka, at 23 years, are raising awareness about the need to model public acceptance of mental health struggles.
“Our culture is shifting,” says Ransom-Burr. “There is more of an understanding that emotional pain is as important as physical pain. When you see more people in the limelight expressing compassion for themselves, it reduces that stigma. The more our youth see this response from a neighbor, from a parent, or from a gymnast, the more likely they are to speak out for themselves. To say, ‘oh, I’ve felt that way, too.’”
Ransom-Burr can’t help but consider the fact that Biles is already coping with the abuse she suffered from former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, in addition to putting herself at an increased risk of physical injury due to her level of performance. “She is a role model for youth who have been through traumatic experiences. She set a healthy boundary for herself with the support of her team. This is what we help youth learn in the Counseling Department – we are a part of their team. We help them develop an understanding of the relationship between the trauma experience and their emotional and behavioral responses.”
If you know a young person who is experiencing mental health struggles, encourage them to reach out for support from a trained mental health provider. Speak about mental health struggles in ways that reduce stigma and normalize asking for help.
Learn more about SAY Counseling programs here.