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The Olympics Of 2021 has set up a New Standard for Prioritizing Mental Health

If you ask a teenager or a young adult to enlist their priorities, how long do you think it will take for them to mention their mental health? Well, for most of them, it might not even be a part of the list. Even with immense development in the field of Psychology and with all the awareness programs aimed at educating people regarding depression and mental illnesses, mental health still lacks the kind of attention it requires and demands. But, the Tokyo Olympics of 2021, with the Simone Biles withdrawal incident, has sparked off an essential and much-required dialogue surrounding mental health, setting up a new standard for prioritizing mental health above everything else.


The Olympics

The Olympics is the conglomeration of the most prestigious international sporting events held every four years. Athletes from over 200 countries come together to participate and compete with each other in the diverse categories, ranging from running, knitting to badminton and gymnastics, and so much more! Sports enthusiasts around the globe brace themselves with bated breath for the grand showcase of talent by the best of the best. This year, the Olympics have been held in Tokyo, and the buzz surrounding it still hasn’t mellowed down even a bit. With the numerous medals Indian athletes have managed to bring home with their sheer hard work and dedication, the celebration is quite legitimately at its peak, even today.


Who is Simone Biles?

Twenty-four years old Simone Arianne Biles from Ohio, America, is an artistic gymnast. She started dabbling in gymnastics when she was just six years old, and after a period of rigorous training, she soon began to participate in various competitions. Artistic gymnastics requires the athletes to perform different routines, and it is probably the most striking collaboration of art and sports. To date, Biles has secured 32 medals in total owing to her victories in the Olympics and World Championships. She is by far one of the most successful female gymnasts of all time, and she is often compared to Larisa Latynina, the world-famous Ukrainian gymnast who has successfully secured 18 Olympic medals in total in her entire career. In the 2016 Olympics, Simone Biles was the only female gymnast who participated in all four gymnastic events from Team USA and stunning everyone,  she took home a jaw-dropping, record-setting number of 4 gold medals for her excellent performance.

She also co-wrote an autobiography with journalist Michelle Burford, titled Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance which soon became a New York Times Bestseller in 2017.


What happened with Simone Biles? 

Simone Biles, back in the year 2016, had disclosed that she was dealing with some mental health issues and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. She had also revealed that she was under medication for the same. Due to all of this, she had decided to take a short hiatus in 2017 and returned to gymnastics once again, in full vigor, in 2018. After that, there was no looking back. She went on participating in championships and winning until 2020 when Covid forced everyone and everything around the world to come to a pause. 

For the Tokyo Olympics held this year, Biles had qualified on 25th July for a total of 6 events, and she was expected to bring home six gold medals. The expectations ran high because of her previous record-breaking performances. Biles’ withdrawal from the team event on 27th July came as a shocker to many. She stated that she was dealing with mental health issues which led to this decision. Without Biles, the team bagged home a silver. What happened next was absolutely astounding, to say the least, as Simone issued her decision to withdraw from the subsequent two events back-to-back. She expressed that she wasn’t feeling up to the mark, either physically or mentally. Many struggled to accept this since she was just a few steps away from a sure win in those events. Anyway, on 3rd August, she again returned to the competition and geared up for her last event in the Tokyo Olympics 2021 as she felt that she was in a better state of mind than before. She went home with a Bronze medal. 


How Is It Relevant In Today’s World? 

We live in a highly competitive time and age where everyone is almost involuntarily a part of the exhausting, never-ending rat race. The youngsters are especially so immersed in the competitiveness that they forget to prioritize their mental health at all. Yet, according to popular research, a deteriorating mental health is bound to take a toll on one’s lifestyle and interpersonal relationships, which in turn can again affect one’s mental wellbeing. So, it’s almost an inescapable loop! 

How many times have you seen your child get all worked up and anxious before an exam or any other sort of competitive event? Some children even throw up and become all feverish prior to exam days or such events. Performance anxiety and the constant apprehension regarding being able to live up to people’s expectations, when experienced for a long time, can cause severe psychological distress and lead to depression, eating disorders and so on. Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the Olympics events was reportedly a result of acute anxiety and the extreme pressure she was under to bring home the gold medals because expectations were soaring based on her previous record. Being someone who has been dealing with mental health issues for quite a long time, Biles felt overwhelmed, and things took a turn accordingly. But, Biles’ decision, even though it might have made quite a few people upset, especially the ones who were rooting for her, is an admirable one. By prioritizing her mental health over something as grand as the Olympics, she showed us how important it is to take care of ourselves and our wellbeing. She showed us; nothing is worth sacrificing your internal balance for. She showed us that the world can wait, medals can wait, and so can people’s expectations, but self-care should always be the center of our focus. 

The immense load of expectations that is put on the shoulders of athletes or any sort of performers takes a toll on their mental health. Although, most of them are pretty adept in hiding it, and they bury the anxiety deep inside because of the “the show must go on” mindset, which can eventually prove to be fatal in the long run. The same sort of pressure is experienced by students and teenagers as well. They, too, are performers in a way. It’s like—their family, the society, is constantly judging them based on how they deal with life, how they “perform” in their school or academics and any extracurricular activity they take up. They can feel the prying, judging eyes constantly fixed on them, and this leads to severe stress, which can give rise to anger issues, depression, OCD and even something as intense as nervous breakdowns and disorders. 

Simone’s withdrawal and her decision came as a wake-up call. It made us realize that first and foremost, no one, not even the best of the best athletes, is immune from mental health issues and, secondly, how important it is to be kind and gentle with ourselves.  


What can we conclude from this incident?

From the Simone Biles’ incident, we can conclude that pressure and stress only act as hindrances in the path towards victory. Teenagers and young adults, who are in the developmental stages of their life and career, should, at all costs, be spared from such excruciating stress, and if you feel that your child is going through a rough patch or dealing with some mental health issues, the ThatMate app is always there to help you help your child deal with it, by providing relevant and insightful articles.

And, similarly, we derive another important concluding point from this incident that if someone is indeed going through some overwhelming mental health crisis, then they should never push themselves beyond their limits. Instead, the key to dealing with it is paying attention to the problem, taking as much time as required to overcome it, talking about it to trusted friends or family members, accepting it without any shame or prejudice and if needed, seeking professional help. Such is the example that has been set by Simone Biles, one of the most charismatic female gymnasts the world has seen to date. 


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