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Mental Health: Is the Narrative Changing?

Committed athletes dedicate years to their sport, overcoming challenges and unexpected obstacles with a delicate finesse and perseverance that can easily take a toll on their mental health, pushing them beyond their mental fitness. Michael Phelps, an American former competitive Swimmer, has publicly stated several times that mental health absolutely needs to be prioritised in the world of sports.

Phelps has openly discussed his struggles with mental health: “I can’t expect to have every answer today, but I also have to give myself forgiveness because I’m still learning and at times that is hard.”

Having goals is important because it gives us direction, a purpose to fight for, but it is just as (if not more) important to remind ourselves that growth takes time, that mistakes happen, and that we need to take the time to rest and recover amidst the intense training.

“I’m constantly learning. I’m constantly growing.” – Michael Phelps

Simone Biles, an American artistic gymnast, withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics team finals because she was concerned about her mental health. Biles highlighted the importance of mental health and openly stated that “we’re human too” and that “we also have to focus on ourselves”.

When Phelps heard Bile’s announcement of withdrawal from the event, he said that it “broke [his] heart” and he hopes that it will be an “eye-opening” experience and an opportunity to “blow this mental health thing even more wide open” because “it’s bigger than we can ever imagine”.

This bravery to speak out sparked a global discussion on mental health among athletes and has led to some significant movement in the area. It is slowly becoming more accepted that, while athletes focus largely on their physical capabilities, they must also be mentally and emotionally fit. It is this balance that leads to peak performance.

“Before I would only focus on the gym. But me being happy outside the gym is just as important as me being happy and doing well in the gym. Now it’s like everything’s coming together.” – Simone Biles

Without a doubt, social media plays a significant role in the mental health struggles of athletes due to its great reach and fast-paced nature. However, it also provides athletes like Phelps and Biles a platform to spread awareness and share their stories.

Mental health awareness in sports is gradually increasing thanks to athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles. In fact, just recently, Phelps and Biles organised a meet-up to discuss mental health. It is this confident, completely vulnerable, honest and open communication we need to take the next intimidating steps in normalising mental health struggles and providing athletes the time and space they need to rest, heal, and recover.

“Don’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.” – Michael Phelps

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