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Sports world examining how to address mental health after Simone Biles speaks up

Tokyo Olympics Artistic Gymnastics
Posted at 3:54 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 15:54:23-04

Simone Biles and other top stars like Naomi Osaka say they’re willing to skip competitions to prioritize their mental health and they’re challenging our perceptions of athletes. 

"It's not just saying, 'Something's not right, I'm having some difficulty,'" explained Dr. Caroline Brackette, assistant dean and associate professor at Mercer University's College of Health Professions. "But they're doing things to actually protect their mental health and wellness."

Dr. Brackette works with college athletes at Mercer University. She says this wave of awareness is giving the public more insight into the nuances of mental health.

"It's important to sort of build a plan around each individual and not expect that if I do this one thing for the team, everything's going to be great because everybody is not struggling with the same thing or everyone doesn't learn the same way," she said.

"Very few though in the audience know the internal workings, perhaps the personal stories, the lived experiences [and] the trauma people carry around," said Dr. William Parham, professor at Loyola Marymount University. 

William Parham is part of the U.S. Olympic Paralympic Committee's mental health task force. It helped the Olympics implement resources like dedicated mental health professionals at the games and a 24/7 hotline for athletes. But he says the Olympics, and other sports leagues should provide continuous support. 

"Once the athletes have passed on and no longer competing as athletes, Olympians, we have to have support services in place to help them launch, stay focused, help them transition into something else," said Parham. 

Brackette says years of athletes – like Michael Phelps and Kevin Love – speaking up, shows how far we’ve come. And how organizations can build a better support system for athletes who seek mental health treatment. 

"That's seen more as courage and strength, to be able to just challenge that image that you have to be this tough person who nothing impacts you, nothing takes you off your game," she said. "What I can envision is that that becomes part of the team culture. And you talk about mental health the same way that you do medical help. It really needs to be infused into the conversations that you're having with individuals. " 

This story was originally published by Austin Kim at Newsy.