Seven years ago this month, I wrote a blog article titled “The Tragic Result of Sweeping Mental Health Under the Rug.” Robin Williams had just committed suicide. I pleaded with my readers to take mental health seriously.
A couple weeks ago, I saw Simone Biles, one of the world’s greatest athletes who was sexually assaulted as a teenager by her team doctor, being ridiculed for choosing not to compete because she didn’t think she was mentally prepared to do so.
This happened just two months after tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open rather than participate in media interviews, which she felt contributed to her mental health struggles. French tennis officials fined her and threatened to suspend her.
It sounds to me like people are still sweeping mental health under the rug.
Seven years ago, I was sad and heartbroken. Today, I’m angry.
You see the prevalence of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. You see increased use of SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants and other prescription medication. You see increased use of alcohol and illegal drugs that are often used to cope with mental health issues.
Then the know-it-alls on TV and social media have the audacity to question the “mental toughness” of these women and wonder how this could possibly happen at the Olympics.
Well, hang on a second, Mr. and Mrs. Hypocrite. When did judgment of another individual’s mental health become your job or your right?
We’ve raised two generations of supermen and superwomen in this country who are expected to have mental strength to match their physical gifts. We push them and push them and push them. They train and compete under a microscope all year long.
And now people wonder why they have mental health issues?
Let’s forget about world-class athletes for a second. The vast majority of kids who society puts through the ringer every year rarely make it big anyway.
What about the woman they see crying on the street outside of an apartment building? Will she be ridiculed on TV and social media, too?
Simone Biles chose to make her mental health struggles public. Who is anyone to judge another person whose struggles are not public?
Maybe that crying woman is a single mom of three who’s a domestic abuse survivor and works two jobs to put food on the table. She doesn’t need judgment. She needs love and understanding.
The first thing to remember is that nobody knows the struggles that could be having a negative impact on another person’s mental health. I see people in clinical practice who close the door and tell me things they’ve never told anyone else. The burden some people carry every day is enormous.
By the way, Simone Biles revealed days later that her aunt died unexpectedly while she was at the Olympics.
The second thing to remember is that we’re not talking about biceps here. We’re talking about brains.
Physical health is treated immediately and seriously, but mental health continues to get swept under the rug. We need to get to a point at which there’s no physical health or mental health. There’s just health and it’s all important.
I’ve always believed in the Triad of Health, which states that all three components of health – physical, psychological, and nutritional – must be addressed and in balance for a person to be truly healthy.
I would argue, however, that mental health is most important. Doesn’t it make sense that our mental state, intelligence, emotions, empathy, and spirituality are more important than the size of our muscles, how fast we can run, or how many flips we can do through the air?
Parents, as you sign your kids up for sports and other activities that can easily turn into year-round pursuits, I encourage you to find balance.
Teach your children to love, care, think, and be kind. Leave plenty of time for unstructured activities. Let your kids go out and play. Show them how to exercise their brain as much as they exercise their body.
Most importantly, take mental health just as seriously as physical health. If you think anxiety, depression, isolation, or some other mental health issue could be affecting your child or a loved one, don’t tell them to “fight through it” or “snap out of it” or “get tough.”
Talk to them. Find out why they feel the way they do. And for the sake of their long-term health, get them help.