Amongst all of the uplifting stories at this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, the most profound has been the centring of mental health in the international conversation.
Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of the gymnastic women’s team final for mental health reasons is hugely important. Not only does it demonstrate a clear link between high performance and mental wellbeing, but it shows that mental health can affect us all, Olympian or not.
Biles has not been alone in opening up about poor mental health. The Team GB triathlete, Alex Lee, has recently described suffering from “a mild form of imposter syndrome” earlier in his career. While recent gold-medallist Tom Daley has been candid about his experiences of PTSD following the 2012 London Olympics.
Outside of the Olympics there has also been greater conversation around the link between performance and mental health. The British tennis player Emma Raducanu withdrew from Wimbledon earlier this year after a bout of performance anxiety during her last-16 match, while the world number 2 Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open due to concerns for her mental health. Indeed, the spectrum of athletes who have opened up about their mental health is both inspiring and uplifting.
There are a few takeaways from all of this.
The first is that there is a clear link between mental and physical health. This speaks to the importance of the upkeep of our mental health when it comes to performance, and the self-care that is necessary to maintaining both our wellbeing and productivity.
The second speaks to the universality of mental health struggles. If world-renowned athletes, internationally famous and at the top of their game, can suffer significant mental distress, then it goes without saying that the average person can too.
It is safe to say that the past 18 months have placed mental health firmly in the mainstream. The trauma of the pandemic, in conjunction with the honest admissions of well-known public figures, has massively helped to break down the stigma associated with mental health and normalise the struggles that many of us face.
However, there has been backlash against Biles from some pundits, perhaps best summarised by Piers Morgan’s “don’t get sucked into all the weak woke failure-loving Twitter nonsense” comment. This simply shows that there is still work to be done, and that there are those who do not view mental health struggles as legitimate or significant.
If you have noticed a dip in performance in your employees, the answer could quite well lie in poor mental health. Take the time to reach out and establish an open and honest space to talk. If you can, direct them to your organisation’s mental health services, whether that is an EAP or otherwise. Reassure them that it is okay not to be okay, and that even Olympic athletes struggle sometimes!