Simone Biles’ decision sheds light on the mental stresses competitive athletes endure

Tokyo Olympics

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Superstar gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic competition on Tuesday. Biles made a move after a shaky start to the team finals, nearly falling to the mat during her vault.
Team USA said Biles withdrew because of a medical issue. We now know Biles decided to prioritize her mental health.

“I say put mental health first because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport, and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to,” Biles explained. “So it’s okay sometimes to sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are.”

More and more athletes are focusing on their mental health. College programs also stepping up, including Wichita State. In August of 2020, Wichita State invested in the mental health of its athletes by hiring an Athlete mental health coordinator. WSU’s chief psychologist, Dr. Jessica Provines, says the decision has already made a huge impact on the athletic program.

“We know one of the barriers to treatment for a lot of our athletes is just their time,” said Dr. Provines. “Making the time to address their mental health needs can be a significant challenge.”

“It’s more talked about now; people are hyper-aware of it,” added former Shocker basketball player Terrell Benton. “It’s causing athletes to be more concerned it’s going to impact their long term health and well being.”

Benton played for the Shockers’ in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He says the outside pressure on athletes can be overwhelming for many.

“Everything is accessible immediately, so the second anyone makes a mistake, you know about that mistake, and it is exasperated by all of the conversations and the things that happen online,” said Benton.

Benton believes these stresses are worse now than during his playing career, but it is also talked about more.

“There are more resources made available to them because we do talk and spend more time being aware of the mental health stresses that come with it,” he explained.

For WSU, they’re prepared for this side of an athlete’s needs to continue to grow.

“They’re not there necessarily to just help improve sport,” said Dr. Provines. “But they’re there to support the student-athlete and their mental health. We’re seeing that growing across the country.”

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call (316) 660-7500 or 1-800-273-TALK. For more information about the support line, click here.

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