Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
The past few weeks have been great for mental health awareness. In large part thanks to the honesty of two world class athletes Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. If you somehow missed what has been going on. The two athletes (at different times and places) announced that they would be pulling out of competitions for their mental health. For Naomi Osaka this was during the French open, one of the biggest tennis competitions in the world. As a renown tennis player, Naomi Osaka decided to step away from the French Open.
This after she first announced that due to mental health issues she would not be doing press. This comes after many athletes, including other tennis greats like Serena Williams have said that sometimes these mandatory press briefings have been bad for their mental state. In response the French open said it would penalize Ms Osaka. A move that many saw as narrow minded. In response Naomi decided to pull out altogether choosing to put her mental health first.
A similar move was made by US gymnast Simone Biles. Whom during the current Olympics announced that she would not be competing in one of the group competitions.Many speculated that this was due to an injury. As the thought of her not competing for other reasons seemed unfathomable. At a press briefing a few days later, Biles clarified that she was indeed not injured. But instead decided to step back due to mental health concerns. Whilst the response was mixed, with many wondering how someone, especially a great gymnast like Ms Biles would not participate in one of the biggest sporting events in the world. The conversation started to shift from why to why not?.
Why is it that we expect people to work through pain or trauma. Putting their mental health at risk for the sake of a metal, acclaim or to please others. This conversations, like many others that have been happening around the world about mental health are ones that are long overdue. Especially in a world and culture that rewards pushing yourself past your limit. But is then surprised when people are burnt out or become shells of themselves.
I for one know this too well. Often feeling too ashamed to express my inability to complete what some may deem “basic” tasks due to mental health issues. And something I know many friends and loved ones do too. What I have loved about these two world class athletes coming forward. Is that they have shown that even at your peak you can have mental health issues that need to be addressed. And that stepping back or stepping aside, is not only the right thing to do. But the best thing to do. As Simone Biles put it “We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,”.
This is an important message for us all. Especially when dealing or talking about mental health. Because whilst the term “mental health” may seem foreign and even abstract for some. For many it is as real as an open festering wound, that needs to be tended too. And one that needs all of our attention if we are to support those going through any number of mental health issues.