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Mental health issues in sports; athletes are humans too

Simone Biles the latest high-profile athlete to pull out of events because of mental health issues

Being healthy is defined as being physically, mentally, and emotionally completely free from disease or defect. Mental health is a critical aspect of being healthy as the mind is a quite powerful contributor to general health. This past week at the Olympics, four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles pulled out of her events in Tokyo, citing mental health issues as the reason for her actions.

With the prevalence of mental health issues among elite-level athletes, one must realise that the awareness created by these athletes has significantly helped to enlighten more people on how complex issues related to the state of mind of an individual are. Ex-footballer Adriano was one of those who came out to fully support Biles after she announced her decision because he had gone through a worse situation during his playing career, and this ultimately marked the end of his glorious professional career. He had been seriously affected by his father’s death, but he continued to play football without giving himself the chance to heal. In retrospect, he recalls the period as having played with a hole in his leg (referring to an Achilles injury he suffered) and a hole in his heart (referring to the heartache from his father’s death). A lack of awareness of the importance of mental health meant that he was misunderstood and vilified for having thrown away a very promising career.

Similarly, Japan’s tennis poster girl Naomi Osaka had to pull out of participating in the French Open after confessing that facing the media in her compulsory post-match press duties gave her anxiety. The authorities were not having any of it and fined her for missing her press duties, forcing the tennis star to retire from the competition and announce that she would be taking a break from tennis. She only just returned to the court at the Olympics, eight weeks after she left the French Open. Chelsea’s American winger Christian Pulisic confessed that moving to Europe and living alone took its toll on his mental health, and speaking to a therapist regularly was what helped him immensely. Also, Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard admitted that the first half of the 2020/21 season was nightmarish for him as he fell into depression and self-doubt before employing the services of a therapist and going on to remind everyone in the second half of the season of his brilliance on the football pitch while on loan at West Ham United. These are just a few of the high-profile cases of mental health issues faced by elite athletes.

It is important to remember that Biles, like others, is human. She is only 24 and has won 30 Olympics and World Championships medals and must be entitled to a rest whenever she needs one. There have been negative remarks online after her announcement, implying that many people still do not recognise the importance of mental stability in sports. Biles’ case is a case of Twisties where her mind can’t seem to focus on doing the easiest of routines, as she shared a video of herself falling while performing some of her basic routines. She has since pulled out of the women’s team final, individual all-around final and floor final and is not expected to participate in Tuesday’s beam final. There has been an overwhelming show of support for the American, and she definitely would come back stronger and better.

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