How Olympic Athletes and Organizers are Destigmatizing Mental Health

Even the best in the world can struggle with mental health issues too. Just ask Singapore’s Joseph Schooling, the world record holder in the 100m butterfly event admits that the stress and pressure of competition has a profound effect on his motivation and performance. 

Joseph Schooling 

In an interview with VICE, the 26-year-old swimmer says, “Society has become more aware and people are paying more attention to mental health. It affects your outlook and has a huge impact on your life”. He elaborates by saying how affected he was by public criticism on his appearance and performance during the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. The whole ordeal, he says, drained him of the motivation to train. 

Simone Biles 

Schooling wasn’t the only star athlete that put mental health in the spotlight in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Simone Biles also put mental health at the forefront of the conversation when she decided to forgo some of her gymnastics events. Her withdrawals from her events are especially important because she was expected to dominate them all as she did in the last Olympic Games. 

Naomi Osaka 

But if there’s an elite athlete who has put mental health on the map this year, it would have to be Naomi Osaka of the host country, Japan. This year alone, she has withdrawn from multiple prestigious competitions to focus on mental health. The first major event that she dropped out of was the Roland Garros after getting fined $15,000 for skipping media day. She then withdrew from the French Open, and Wimbledon to spend time with her family and to focus on her mental wellbeing. 

Schooling, Biles, and Osaka are all in their prime and at the top of their game. With their examples, sport psychologists are hoping that the dominant definition of mental toughness take a turn for the better. With elite athletes as role models, the conversation on mental illness can be a little bit more destigmatized for the rest of the general population. 

International Olympic Committee 

Even the Olympic committee has recognized the growing impact of mental health issues. The official Olympic website has a dedicated page to it for both athletes and site visitors. 

In the website, the IOC encourages athletes to be more proactive in maintaining mental wellbeing and shares some useful tips. These tips include the following: 

Be Proactive 

Society is a more aware of the dangers of mental health issues and that is a good thing – awareness helps us be prepared and equip ourselves with the tools to manage mental downtimes. Keeping a positive mindset is one of the best ways to keep us from spiraling down the rabbit hole. Whether we just got dealt a loss in a match or failed to finish with a medal, a positive mindset can help shield us from anxiety and depression that can result from it. 

Identify Your Triggers 

There can be multiple triggers for a mental health breakdown for both an athlete and for members of the general population. Death of a family member, failures, injuries, and public scrutiny can all become a trigger. It’s important to be self-aware about what it is exactly that triggers you. 

Set Boundaries 

Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together 

This is the updated version of the Olympic motto for the Tokyo Games. But, in the pursuit of becoming faster, higher, and stronger than the competition, it’s important to achieve mental fitness as well. 

Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind just to get to top. To do this, set boundaries. Build a good self-care routine and don’t simply dedicate all of yourself to training. Get enough sleep and enjoy your downtimes. 

Keep an Eye Out for Each Other 

In the heat of competition, there can be a fine line between acceptable behaviours and psychological abuse especially from coaches. Defined as deliberate and repeated behaviour that causes mental harm to the athlete, psychological abuse can occur even before the competition itself. If you feel like you or any of your teammates are constantly made to feel like you’re worthless or inadequate. 

Build a Support Network 

Whether it’s friends, family, coaches and trainers, or sports psychologists and therapists, it’s important to be able to build a support network that you can talk openly about anything that may be stressing you out. It’s only through an open and honest sharing that you can develop new perspectives. It also helps our mental health a lot when we have an outlet for all our negative emotions. 

Feeling alone all the time as you face your tasks can easily overwhelm even the most elite of athletes. And if it goes on long enough, it can even affect their performance as seen in some of the performances of Joseph Schooling, Simone Biles, and Naomi Osaka in the Tokyo Olympics. 

If talking to someone doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to take a break. Even a brief break can go a long way in resetting your energy and motivation.  

Plan Ahead 

A lot has been said about the benefits of getting enough sleep. It’s true for athletes who want to be in tip top shape too. Researchers suggest that athletes who get enough sleep can raise athletic performance metrics by up to 20% because it helps both mind and body recover from the everyday stress of training. So, it’s important to get enough sleep no matter how busy the training schedule gets.  

Another crucial step for maintaining a healthy mental state is to cut back on social media. For athletes, reading what the rest of the world has to say about them can cause performance anxiety. The internet is full of trolls whose main goal is to agitate and get you out of your game. 

If you can notice, these suggestions from the IOC are also applicable for the general population. Workers, students, and even stay-at-home parents are also under some type of pressure to perform at the best of their abilities every single day. And because we have Joseph Schooling, Simone Biles, and Naomi Osaka to look up to as role models, we too can choose to prioritize our mental health from time to time. 

A mental health clinic like Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic is fully equipped to handle depression treatment through various modern treatment techniques. So, if you’re ever in need support in your journey to a better mental health, you can start with a consult with psychologists or a psychiatrist in Singapore who are more than ready to guide you through it.