Imagine training your entire life for the opportunity to have the whole world see you at your best. All the things you had to give up, all the hours you spent in grueling exercises, all the times you fell short of everyone’s expectations — especially your own. Now you’re being called the greatest of all times and the world can’t wait to see you do something else that we’ll remember for decades.
When Simone Biles walked off the mat in Tokyo, she stunned the world. We expect Olympians to be superhuman. We believe they have no doubts and will persevere through everything. We hold them up as role models and say, “If she can push harder and overcome challenges, I can too.” Anything less and we’re disappointed.
But Simone Biles didn’t let us down. To me, Simone is a hero who raised us up. Choosing to put her own mental health ahead of the expectations of millions of fans looking for inspiring entertainment is one of the bravest acts we’ve seen at the Olympic Games. It follows another example of bravery, when tennis great Naomi Osaka walked away from the prestigious Roland-Garros tournament to protect her mental health from the media’s intrusive questioning.
The acts of these young women and the other athletes who have stepped up in recent months to talk about their personal lives are powerful examples of strength, not weakness. They also reflect the progress we’ve made in the world of mental health. We may not have completely eliminated the stigma surrounding mental health and our fundamental need to care for ourselves, but conversations on those topics are moving from the shadows to the forefront, and we applaud those who speak out.
A generation ago, fans may have reacted to Simone and Naomi’s actions with angry criticism. Not now. People are finally beginning to understand how we can’t separate our mental health from our physical health, the mental illness doesn’t discriminate, and that finding a trusted counselor can make difference.
This is definitely a proud moment, and we still so much work to do. The Hendricks County Mental Health Coalition is an effective avenue for reminding our communities and workplaces that mental health is important in every realm of our lives — at work, in school, in our homes, and in all of our relationships. If you’re willing to help the Coalition with this vital work, let me know.
And if you watched Simone step off the mat and felt her pain because you’re struggling right now, please follow her brave example and take a stand. Please reach out. Care to Change offers many ways to help you overcome the feelings and become the person you truly are. We invite you to attend the Overcome Class hosted by the Hendricks Regional Health YMCA. Or maybe it’s time to sit down with one of our counselors and find the right strategy to restore joy to your life. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to take a courageous step of your own.
April Bordeau is Care to Change’s director and a licensed clinical social worker who has been helping families for more than 25 years. April has led the Hendricks County Mental Health and Wellness Coalition for the past 5 years.