Mental health at the Winter Olympics: the IOC’s plans

When Olympic gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the finals of the women’s team gymnastics competition during the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, she set a new gold standard for the games. “I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being,” said Biles, a survivor of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor. “It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head,” she added. With those words, Biles not only changed the face of gymnasts, but she ensured that the mental health of an athlete would never again be relegated to the background. The 2022 Winter Games start on T-1, and while Biles, Naomi Osaka and other Gamesthe changing figures will not be present, the olympic committee has put in place new measures to ensure athletes are physically and mentally fit.

Ahead of the competition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken a couple of important steps to ensure that athletes feel psychologically supported in the Olympic Village. First, with the launch of Athlete365, a publicly available online toolkit for Olympic athletes focused on mental wellness that includes expert advice, athlete stories, and a 24/7 mental health line. week. This is a truly valuable resource when you consider that approximately 35 percent of athletes experience mental health crises that can lead to anxiety, eating disorders, burnout, or depression. The IOC has also stated that there will be psychologists and psychiatrists in the Olympic Village to help the athletes. “The sports psychologist from each national governing body will be in Beijing, moving between the different villages but available to all athletes,” says Women’s Alpine Chief Physiotherapist Torey Anderson, PT, DPT. She adds that Olympians will also have access to other “emergency mental health resources,” free memberships to the Headspace meditation app and a mental health hotline.

US Olympic skier Bella Wright says that after dealing with a talus fracture in December and recovering just in time to compete, she feels “all the stuff” as she prepares for Beijing. “COVID-19 has definitely added a lot of stress to our competitions and especially big events like the Olympics. We are all in our own bubbles and trying to stay as healthy as possible so we can compete at the highest level,” she says. .

Although Wright had not arrived at the Olympic Village at the time we spoke, he says that, thus far, he feels the IOC and Team USA are taking steps to protect the mental well-being of all athletes. “I feel like everyone has been very attentive to athlete mental health and has provided a lot of resources for anyone who wants to take advantage of them. We’ve gotten a lot of different emails, Zoom calls and presentations on how to access these mental health resources,” he says. . Jason Brown, a Team USA Olympic figure skater, agrees that mental health appears to be a high priority for this year’s Games. “U.S. Figure Skating [team] also has a team psychologist coming to Beijing,” he says.

Brown, who took home a bronze medal after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, knows firsthand that these mental health resources can make a world of difference, especially when you compete internationally. “I just want to re-emphasize the importance of mental health at the Games. During the Olympics, there are so many emotions to process, so much energy being thrown at you, expectations from others and from yourself, and love being sent to you in the most incredible way from all over the world,” she says. “It’s so important to have ways to bring you back to earth.”

Only time will tell if the mental health of athletes truly takes center stage, not just at the Olympics, but also at the high school, college, and professional level. As with many problems facing sports today, solutions must address problems where they exist, in a systemic level. And while mental health resources are not a holistic solution, they are a start. For now, both Wright and Brown intend to make the most of the competition ahead. “I believe that everyone who goes to the Games is ready to experience a lifelong childhood dream, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to compete regardless of all the challenges,” says Wright.

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