APU Health & Fitness Mental Health Original

Even Olympians Struggle with Mental Health Problems

According to MentalHealth.gov, mental health is defined as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Although self-care and mental health are used interchangeably, mental health is the preferred term to highlight the broad range of issues the term encompasses. Indeed, self-care and mental health have become common terms over the past couple of months.

Mental health issues include biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, and life experiences, such as trauma or abuse. Emphasis on mental health has resurfaced recently due to the many prominent individuals who’ve bravely come forward to discuss the challenges they face. These individuals include Olympic athletes Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Michael Phelps, and actress Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.

Naomi Osaka Suffered Anxiety When Talking to the Press

U.S. tennis star Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic flame at the 2021 Olympics opening ceremony, was knocked out of the competition on July 27. This was an upset loss in the third round of the tennis competition to the Czech Republic’s Markéta Vondroušová in two sets, 6-1, 6-4.

Osaka’s loss comes two months after she dropped out of the French Open to take a mental health break. She stated she had huge waves of anxiety when talking to the press, an obligation of the tournament.

Osaka, who has won four major tennis championships, wrote about her mental health challenges in Time magazine: “It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions. There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes. Each of us as humans is going through something on some level.”

Simone Biles Stuns Olympics by Withdrawing to Focus on Her Mental Health

In a stunning move, Simone Biles withdrew from this year’s Olympics gymnastic competition, arousing an international response. Biles, considered the greatest female gymnast of all time, pulled out of both the team finals and the women’s individual all-around gymnastics competition to focus on her mental health issues. She received global support from both athletes and entertainers when she defended her decision, explaining that she is still struggling from what is known as the “twisties.”

Olympics Swimmer Michael Phelps Acknowledges Years-Long Struggle with Mental Health

Swimmer Michael Phelps has documented his more than 15-year struggle with mental health issues. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals — 23 of which are gold — has spoken of his mental health challenges in numerous documentaries and interviews.

“I can go back to 2004 and say that was when I first experienced it,” Phelps said. “That was the first time I came across depression coming back from the 2004 Olympic Games. I suffered from post-Olympic depression pretty bad. That was when I was finally able to really see that this is who I am and it’s a part of me and it’s not going to go away.

“So, I need to learn more about it. I need to learn why I work, how I work, why I am how I am. I was able to dive into some things that I had been stuffing down inside, kind of compartmentalizing and not wanting to address and acknowledge. I think at that point I was really able and ready to grow and learn.”

Phelps recently said he understands and appreciates the monumental pressure and mental strain placed on athletes:”The easiest way for me to say this is athletes and Olympic athletes in general … we need someone who we can trust, somebody that can let us be ourselves and listen. Allow us to become vulnerable. Somebody who’s not going to try to fix us. We carry a lot of weight on our shoulders, and it’s challenging.”

Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle Has Experienced Mental Health Struggles

Osaka revealed that Meghan Markle was among the prominent figures who offered her support during her recent mental health break. Meghan and Prince Harry have prioritized mental health advocacy ever since going public as a couple. Both have recently discussed their own experiences with mental health struggles, including in their much-publicized March interview with TV icon Oprah Winfrey.

The couple explained they resigned as senior royals after a character assassination of her by Britain’s tabloid media. That led Markle to experience suicidal ideation, which basically means thinking about suicide. It’s important to highlight that the royal couple’s decision to withdraw from public life for mental health reasons was met with “unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.”

Tips on How to Maintain Your Mental Health

Osaka, Biles, Phelps and Markle have all emphasized the need to maintain good mental health. Last year, I interviewed Dr. Kelechi Fluitt, a licensed psychology associate, about how to maintain your mental health during the pandemic. During the APU Edge podcast, she stated there are in-person and virtual ways to reach out to people including:

  • Mental health screenings
  • Scheduling events to provide mental health material
  • Panel discussions that include speakers and moderators that discuss mental health

Dr. Fluitt emphasized that “self-checks are important to assess how you are feeling and, if something is not right, notify someone.”

So what can you do to ascertain your mental health status? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Conduct a mental health check. Even if you are not a medical professional, it’s important to understand your emotions and reactions, and how they can fluctuate in different situations.
  2. Assess your physical health. Mental health is directly related to physical health. So take time each day to exercise. Dancing, walking, and swimming are just a few activities that can improve your health and ultimately improve your mood.
  3. Introduce mood boosters into your routine. Introduce ways to reward yourself for small or routine activities. For example, listen to your favorite recording artist and watch TikTok videos to boost your mood.
  4. Use laughter. Find ways to laugh every day. There are multiple connections between laughter and good health.
  5. Maintain a proper diet. Diet is important, so consider what you are eating and how that can affect your psyche.
  6. Identify patterns. It’s important to recognize a negative reaction when you encounter the same person or situation over and over again.
  7. Seek resources. If you need help, ask. Seek someone you trust and let that person know you need help. There is a wealth of resources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA’s national hotline that can help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mental Health Is Difficult to Discuss

Mental health is a tough subject to discuss, but it’s worth making the effort. Michael Phelps may have said it best: “Hopefully, I can save a life. I can help somebody else because I know that the feelings that I have, I had, what I go through every single day, every single week, every single month. I know I’m not alone and I understand that for me it’s OK to not be OK.”

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math STE(A)M. She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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