This year’s Olympics really seemed to put a real focus on mental health issues in sports. From mind-body disconnects that could be incredibly dangerous if not life threatening to mental health issues related to high level competition or placing one’s health above performance, the topic seemed to come up in several discussions.
While this is a discussion I would never pretend to be an expert in, I think it is a very important one so I’ll offer a few thoughts and encourage anyone who is facing challenges to seek help and anyone who knows someone facing challenges to be supportive.
As I mentioned above, there are so many aspects here. It should be obvious that some things, like what Simone Biles faced, are a matter of safety. What she was facing could have caused severe injury or even death had she “just battled through”. It was disheartening but I guess shouldn’t have been surprising to see the keyboard warriors who know nothing about real toughness say she’s weak for protecting her safety.
Other issues, such as those that Raven Saunders and Katie Ledecky as well as others spoke about, might not seem on the face of it to be as dangerous but can be debilitating and still potentially dangerous if not properly dealt with.
These athletes should make it obvious that even the most high achieving among us can face these challenges. If you’re facing a similar challenge, it’s not because you’re weak or whatever those keyboard warriors might want to say. It’s because you’re human and humans have to deal with these challenges.
If you are facing challenges, do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. Seek out help if that’s what you need. Take some time away if that’s what you need. Whatever it takes to get past these challenges, do what you need to take care of yourself.
If you know someone who is facing these challenges, first, show some compassion. Be there for them, no matter what happens. Encourage them to get the help they need and make sure they know you will be there every step of the way.
Finally, I always stress to all runners: your health matters way more than your running performance. That includes your mental health. If you have to take a break from running, as Molly Seidel did in 2016, then that’s what you have to do. Seidel proved you can do that and still come back to do well. Bottom line: always, always, always put your health before anything else.