The importance of mental health prioritization in athletics

The importance of mental health prioritization in athletics
Kait Asklund

In general, mental health is a subject that is perplexing to discuss due to its complexity. Mental health is unique to everyone that it affects — which can make the treatment of it even more difficult. We do know that stressors can be a trigger for any individual that may be going through a mental health crisis, and sadly, sometimes that trigger can be something as simple as a sport that we love but that can’t quite have our full attention in the moment.

This individual needs to be considered when discussing the priorities of athletes who may be struggling with mental health. When thinking about Simone Biles’s and Naomi Osaka’s decisions to withdraw from competition due to their mental health, it is important for anyone to remember that often our biggest critic is ourselves. I cannot imagine how it felt for these two highly competitive athletes to withdraw from major competitions. But for these two women, this was the decision that was best for their mental health.

This means that when looking at elite athletes such as Biles and Osaka, an outsider may need to think about how they would treat these two athletes if they had a broken bone. Would you look down upon them for being unable to compete due to a physical injury? If the answer to that question is a no, then why look down upon someone when they are unable to fulfill that same duty due to mental illness.

To put it simply, every athlete always wants to perform to the best of their abilities. Sadly, athletes cannot always play their best when they do not feel okay mentally. Everyone is human and faces problems in life, but that does not make mental health issues invalid. Athletes are allowed to feel emotions, especially when at a highly competitive institution like Augustana. An athlete may not feel able to let their guard down until it is too late, so a mental health crisis arises. It is a great thing to be highly competitive in the classroom, and in whatever sporting arena, but when someone is not thriving mentally, one of the best things that they can do is take a step back and address how they are feeling. It can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of a sport after dedicating hours to it, but one of the most difficult things can be to take a step back.

Taking a step back might sound simple, but it is much more complex. Fear of judgement is one of the biggest issues with mental health and the stigma that surrounds it. There are often negative connotations that go along with taking a mental health day. Words like unmotivated, crazy or weak may come to mind when thinking about others’ perceptions of the athlete when discussing mental health. Instead we should be applauding the people who are brave enough to take a step back from something that they have devoted so much time to. Athletes are dedicated not only to their sport, but also to their team and self. Once we can break down this barrier of judgment, athletes will be able to reach out and ask for help when need be. Mental health will be seen as much more of a priority in the coming years, and we will see more athletes making statements in regards to not only their physical health, but also their mental health.