Professional athletes are opening up about mental health, and it’s making a difference. Tennis player Naomi Osaka, football players (NFL) Brandon Marshall and Aaron Rodgers, and four-time gold winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles are just a few of the professional and US Olympic athletes who are speaking out and sharing their mental health experiences. Osaka and Biles are setting the example that they are people first and athletes second. Osaka established boundaries to deal with her stress, anxiety, and depression in the face of media and professional scrutiny. When she withdrew from the French Open, she let it be known that “It’s O.K. to not be O.K.” even if that means withdrawing from competition. Biles similarly withdrew from the U.S. gymnastics team competition choosing to focus on herself, and her physical and mental health needs ahead of any professional expectations. By choosing to focus on their own mental well-being Osaka, Biles, and other athletes have started a dialogue within the athletic community and beyond on the importance of mental health over societal expectations, normalizing mental health as equally important as maintaining ones’ physical health, and reducing the stigma to speak up and out.
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in America experiences mental illness in a given year. The National Alliance for Mental Illness helpline is available Monday to Friday, 8am to 10pm to help people find mental health services and support in their community. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800/273-8255, or text HOME to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now.