The surprising decision of gymnastics star Simone Biles to withdraw from Olympic competition this week brings another high-profile story to the discussion of mental health.
Biles pulled out of Tuesday's meet because "I have to do what's right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and my well-being." To show how much the discussion about mental health has changed in recent years, her withdrawal drew almost universal statements of support.
One reason Biles has been embraced rather than chided is because she's earned a reputation as one of the best gymnasts ever, a mature leader among the teams she's been on, and a good person outside her sport. Other athletes without those credentials may not have that same support.
Other Olympic athletes have been part of the effort to raise awareness. Retired swimming superstar Michael Phelps has been outspoken about his own mental health challenges, and has been able to comment with empathy as a television commentator this week. Tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon earlier this summer for mental health reasons, but played in this Olympics.
These prominent cases help reduce the stigma of discussing mental health, a topic that is often talked about with hushed tones and without understanding. The truth is that many people have mental challenges as well as physical challenges. We openly discuss major and minor physical ills; why can't we address major and minor mental ills?
Many mental health issues can be addressed by counseling and/or medication. There are trained professionals locally who can work with people who need assistance. And more people in jobs such as law enforcement, education, and business are learning to identify issues to get people the help they need.
We think Biles' Olympic decision will be good for advancing our understanding of mental health.
-- Jon M. Hunter