5 Truths the Olympics Taught us about Mental Health

woman standing in dark in front of light

5 Truths the Olympics Taught us about Mental Health

Recent news of Simone Biles stepping out of the Olympics for mental health reasons has brought to the surface a great realization that we still don’t understand what mental illness means.

There is always an underlying conversation happening around us. It lingers beneath the surface of everything we do. There is a great deal of struggle happening, not just in the United States, but around the world.

In my opinion, mental illness is one of the greatest plagues of our generation.

Nearly 21% of adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in 2019, which is nearly 51 million people, or 1 in 5 adults. 1 in 6 youth in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 (National Alliance on Mental Health).

Now think about how that number has grown after experiencing a pandemic and quarantine in 2020.

Mental health is likely one of the leading ailments in the United States.

Of all the mental health disorders, anxiety is the most prevalent. Anxiety accounts for 19% of the 21% of mental illnesses each year.

The health of our minds is a big deal. Yet, even with numbers such as these, we are still seeing the inability to engage in the conversation about mental health.

Recent news of Simone Biles stepping out of the Olympics for mental health reasons has brought to the surface a great realization that we still don’t understand what mental illness means.

What We Still Struggle to Understand about Mental Health

Mental health doesn’t care if you are a star athlete or a stay-at-home mom.

After 2020, the mental health conversation has come to the surface in a way we haven’t seen in generations before. Many people began dealing with mental health issues for the first time in their lives. Yet, we still see the struggle that comes with the words “mental health.”

In the past few weeks during the Olympics, the conversation burst into the forefront and has revealed how little we really know and understand mental health.

Our response to the conversation reveals what we really understand on the subject.

When one of the highlighted olympic stars, who is considered the “greatest of all time” in her sport, removes herself from the competition for mental health, the world took notice. We can also be sure that the world will have an opinion.

There are a few things we can learn from what took place at the Olympics.

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Chad Madden

What the Olympics Taught us about Mental Health

1. Mental health still carries stigma.

Even in 2021, mental health is still stigmatized. The response in the last few weeks has been proof of that. Mental health has been viewed as an unacceptable reason for backing out of a competition.

The pressure in our lives can push us to our breaking points, even when we are not Olympic gymnasts. We can feel overwhelmed, pulled in a hundred directions, unsure of how to make decisions. Even more than that we can feel depressed, isolated, anxious, afraid to leave our homes at times, and most of us can’t even bear to turn on the news.

This world is brewing a mental health crisis. Unless we take back the conversation and relieve the stigma that it leaves behind.

2. We must be our own advocates.

We are the only ones who can speak for ourselves. We are the only ones who know exactly how we feel at the end of the day. People cannot read our minds and we most certainly do not want them to assume to know what is happening in our heads.

If our mental health has disabled us from doing a project, task, etc. we are the only ones who can speak to that. At the end of the day, it is ok to say no. It is ok to step back and take a breath.

When we advocate for our mental health we will champion others to do the same.

3. It's okay to not be okay.

We don’t have to explain it. We can own that we are not at our best. When anxiety flares up in my life I step back from almost everything, immediately. I cannot get to the root cause or bring myself back to where I need to be if I continue under the same stress or pressure of life. I focus on what I can do, which is usually being a mom, and the rest fades into the background until I can move past those seasons.

I don’t owe anyone an explanation or excuse for my mental health.

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that our weakness is where God shows he is truly strong. My anxiety is a place in my life where I am utterly weak every moment of every day. But in that weakness, God always shows himself to be capable and strong.

4. Extreme pressure has detrimental effects, whether we recognize it or not.

One of the biggest contributors to a breakdown in our mental health is extreme pressure from our circumstances. It shouldn’t be surprising that depression and anxiety numbers skyrocketed in 2020. Our circumstances put a great deal of pressure on us, most of us to our breaking points.

When we let the noise of the world drown out the voice of God, our circumstances will always look far worse than they are. When we take our eyes off of God and place them on temporary things, we will cave to the pressure around us.

Extreme pressure doesn’t just come from a job, it can come from the news, and social media. The pressure is real and it is detrimental to the mental stability of every person around the world.

I will not sacrifice my mental health for the noise of the world.

5. We must exercise compassion to others around us.

This is crucial to the conversation. If we do not extend compassion to the people around us we will never be able to break the barrier of mental health. 

We cannot pretend to know someone's circumstances or what is happening in their minds. We must trust and take their word for it. When someone says they are struggling mentally, they most often mean it in a very serious way. It takes courage to speak up and own your mental health.

We must be quick to listen and slow to speak as James 1:19 reminds us. This is the truth that will help us exercise compassion to others who are struggling with their mental health.

Regardless of who headlines the news with a mental health story, these should be lessons we are learning and conversations we are already having. We have come too far to still treat mental health the way we do. Let the lessons we have learned from recent news be what fuels us to do better for those who struggle with mental illness.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Carl Court/Staff

Michelle Rabon is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who feels called to help women thrive in their walk with Jesus every day. In 2012, she started Displaying Grace, a ministry that is focused on helping women engage with God’s Word. Michelle has also served in women’s ministry for the past five years seeking to equip women in the local church through Bible study. When she is not writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, being close to the ocean, and drinking a lot of coffee.

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