Opening the door to mental health discussions: The impact of Simone Biles not competing

Tokyo Olympics

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Simone Biles will not compete in the all-around competition this week, citing mental health issues. Her decision to back out has many speaking out about their own challenges. 

As a former athlete and coach, Kansan Ryan Stock said he felt the need to bring awareness to mental health for athletes. He is doing it in a way that helps competitors deal with everyday stressors. 

“It’s okay to feel depressed. It’s okay to feel sad,” said Stock. “I felt frustrated, anxious, stressed, and I knew other people felt like I felt, so I wanted to help not only myself but also the other coaches and athletes that felt like that.”

Stock founded an app called MindSport. He said the goal is for athletes to not only focus on physical fitness but also mental fitness. 

“It’s okay to feel the highs and lows that come along with sport, and now, we want to try and not stay there, we don’t want to stay in the dark spaces, we want to try and highlight the positive spaces, but it’s okay to feel those emotions,” Stock said. “The app does just that — we help athletes through mindfulness, meditation, yoga, improve their performance, mentally, physically, and emotionally.”

Stock said he helped many athletes, including middle and high school athletes, professional athletes, and Olympic hopefuls. 

“In order to perform at your best, your highest level as an athlete, you need to also focus on bringing awareness to the mental side of your emotions to how you feel, and that it’s okay to do that. It’s okay to talk about it,” he said. 

Eric Litwiller, Director of Development and Communications for The South Central Mental Health Association, said starting the conversation helps lower the stigma surrounding mental health. Litwiller applauded Simone Biles for being a role model. 

“Someone who is just absolutely at the top of her game athletically and be willing and has the strength and the fortitude to step away from that and show those kids that truly what’s important is your mental health,” said Litwiller. “It’s not medals, it’s not winning, and it’s not whatever it’s taking care of yourself and being healthy and being well, and especially when we’re talking about mental health, which receives relatively little exposure or recognition, compared to physical health.”

Litwiller said he’d seen more people seeking help in recent times. For example, the online self-screening tool for anxiety had been used 600% more this year, and for depression, it’s up 900%.

Litwiller and Stock hope this discussion continues past the Olympics.  

“It’s not a forbidden space to talk about emotions, feelings, negative thoughts, positive thoughts, that it’s okay and actually encouraged to begin to have these discussions,” said Stock. 

The South Central Kansas Mental Health Association has self-screening forms online. You can find those here.

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