It is no surprise that professional athletes struggle with mental health - whether it be because of the sport in general, or maintaining a healthy balance, as outlined in our Student Athletes post, there is a heavy mental burden on them. In addition to that, being thrown into the limelight overnight can place a lot of pressure on them to be “perfect”, causing even more mental struggles. This post will be outlining some recent news of athletes coming out about their mental health struggles, so we can truly understand how mental health struggles are common, even with those we admire.
The famous Japanese tennis player opened up in June about the bullying and hate she received for openly supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign, as well as raising awareness about fighting the coronavirus. Due to the negativity she was receiving, she decided to not hold press conferences at the French Open, causing her to receive a fine of USD$15000 and a threat of suspension which she accepted, dropping out in order to focus on her mental health.
In an essay she wrote for TIME, she especially points out the scrutiny and the stigma around mental illness, saying, “In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones.”
Following Naomi Osaka’s announcement, Lewis Hamilton, a Formula One racer, publicly supported her decision to prioritize her mental health, writing on his Instagram that “Mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious. This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone.”
Hamilton’s statement also encouraged other racers to come out about their mental health struggles, one of which was Lando Norris. Norris has had a pivotal role these past two years in bringing Formula One to the forefront of entertainment, for being a young racer and utilising social media to connect with his fans. Some of them have said that due to his open nature about everything, including mental health - with Norris himself talking about the pressure of not winning a race or doing something wrong - they have been inspired to reach out about their own struggles. He also openly supported Osaka’s decision, expressing his utmost respect for her.
In addition, Norris pointed out the other members of the team were also victims of mental health struggles as they are away from their families a lot, saying, “We do a lot with them in order for anyone in the team to come forward and speak to whoever they need to, not thinking they have to stay quiet.”
Even before recently, Formula One has been a major centre of mental health issues, with Roman Grosjean, a racer, seeing a psychologist after a near-death experience on the opening lap of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. He has spoken about the mental health of the racers’ family members who have to fear for their safety on the track every race weekend. When Grosjean went through another accident in which his car caught fire on the track in 2016, he acknowledged that the thing that impacted him the most was his family having believed the worst for three full minutes.
Olympics and Stress
With the Olympics being one of the most watched sporting events all around the world, all the participating athletes are subject to large amounts of scrutiny and attention, resulting in mental health struggles. Olympians have come out about their struggles, and in particular, Simone Biles, one of the most successful and decorated Olympians in history, has said that she takes time to see her psychiatrist once every two weeks.
In addition, with the pandemic affecting both the Olympics itself as well as the training for it, making everything uncertain, many athletes have been feeling stressed. Ginny Fuchs, an American boxer who used the sport to help cope with her OCD, stated that, “We didn’t even know when we were going to train. We didn’t know when our next camp was going to be. We didn’t know when the qualifiers [were] going to happen. That unknown, that uncertainty, kind of was hard for me, because I didn’t know what to do with myself almost, and when I don’t have that focus or the plan, that’s where my OCD takes over and is more difficult for me to control.”
Simone Biles’ Olympic Withdrawal
On July 27th, Simone Biles announced that she was withdrawing from the Olympic team competition, citing mental well-being as a reason. In an Instagram post, she said, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.” She also said that “This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself when I came in - and felt like I was still doing it for other people.”
Michael Phelps, a fellow USA Olympian, supported Biles, echoing her statement about feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Sha’Carri Richardson Olympics Ban
Sha’Carri Richardson qualified for the USA Olympic Track Team with an amazing result of 10.86 seconds in the 100m. However, she was soon disqualified due to testing positive for cannabis in her system, which she said was due to the “triggering” news that her biological mother had died.
Though she apologised for the incident, even saying that she was not looking for empathy and not trying to make any excuses, she also encouraged people to accept her, because she is “just human. [She] just happens to run a little faster.” Through this incident, she brought sports and mental health to the forefront of current media.
BecauseMentalHealth stands with all athletes that have prioritised their own wellbeing and mental health, and we encourage our audience to do the same. Behind every medal, behind every athlete, is gruelling days of training, sacrifice and poor physical and mental wellbeing.
All these athletes that have chosen to withdraw from competitions due to mental health reasons should not be looked down upon. In fact, they are some of the strongest people, and BecauseMentalHealth applauds them for it.
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"Grosjean to work with psychologist on the fact he "made people suffer"." 9 Dec. 2020, https://www.gpfans.com/en/articles/60190/grosjean-to-work-with-psychologist-on-the-fact-he-made-people-suffer/.
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"The Stress Of Becoming An Olympian :: The Pavlovic Today." 29 Jun. 2021, https://www.thepavlovictoday.com/the-stress-of-becoming-an-olympian/.
"US sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson suspended for one ... - NBC News." 2 Jul. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/sha-carri-richardson-could-miss-olympics-after-failed-drug-test-n1272960.