By Ken Reed

Mental health ills are very real and quite prevalent in our society.

And the pandemic has magnified the mental health challenges we all face.

Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts have been part of the human condition from the beginning. The problem is very few people talked about their mental health struggles and even fewer suggested they were a normal part of being human.

We’ve long lived in a society in which openly discussing mental health issues is taboo. Athletes are certainly no exception. In fact, athletes have always been expected to be physically and mentally tough and not reveal any anxieties or frustrations for fear of being seen as weak.

Fortunately, that’s changing as more and more athletes are openly discussing their mental health. Moreover, they are talking about the importance of getting help for their mental ailments just like they do their physical ailments.

Several American athletes heading to Tokyo for the Olympics have talked about making mental health a priority in recent months, including:

* Gymnast Simone Biles: “For a while, I saw a psychologist once every two weeks,” Biles told Health magazine in June. “That helped me get in tune with myself so that I felt more comfortable and less anxious.”

* Boxer Ginny Fuchs: “I have a great support group that has helped me over the years to stay strong and stay focused and overcome my OCD battles every day,” says Fuchs who does Zoom calls with a therapist twice a week.

* Beach Volleyball Player April Ross: “I think mental health is huge, and it’s been a big focus of mine for the last five years or so. … I believe that mental health translates to physical health and performance.” Ross says she meditates and writes in a journal on a regular basis.

* Sprinter Noah Lyles: “Mental health is just a part of life,” says Lyles. “Just like the reason you go to a doctor is to make sure your body is OK, the reason you go to a therapist or you talk to somebody is to make sure that your mind is OK.”

This is an exciting and important trend. Historically, athletes have been less likely to seek help for mental health issues than the general public. The fact that’s changing should benefit society as a whole, especially young people who often look up to elite athletes.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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