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10 Olympians Who've Opened up about their Mental Health

It was the announcement heard round the world. Last week, Simone Biles, who is considered to be one of greatest gymnasts of all time made the decision to withdraw from the team competition and the individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics. She attributed her decision to rising mental health concerns for herself.


Prioritizing your mental health can sometimes feel like the first day after moving to a new city. You sit down on the couch in your new home with a sigh of relief. You made the move, but what does this new city have to offer you? Did you make the right decision? You feel hopeful and simultaneously nervous about what's to come.


When Simone stepped away from her events on the world's biggest stage to prioritize her well being, her decision echoed in the halls in the form of mutual understanding, support and empathy from Olympic athletes both past and present. She helped shine a light on an issue that is long known to have affected athletes but has often been kept hidden in the dark.



Simone Biles is not the first athlete to acknowledge how scaling pressure to perform and achieve has affected their mental health. Here are 9 other Olympic athletes who have opened up about their mental health/ mental illness:



Naomi Osaka is the number one ranked women's tennis player by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. In June 2021, Osaka skipped Wimbledon and withdrew from the French Open after she was fined $15,000 and threatened with suspension for her refusal to appear at a tournament press conference. Osaka cited her mental health as the reason for not wanting to partake in the news conference. She continues to speak out about the mental health in sports as well as racial injustice in tennis.



The most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps may have dominated the medal podium, but outside the pool, Phelps battles depression and suicidal thoughts. The swimmer admits that there were days when he didn’t want to get out of bed and he sometimes used alcohol as a coping mechanism. After his second DUI, Phelps went to an inpatient treatment center where he learned skills to help him cope with his depression. He continues to be open about his mental health struggles to help other athletes not feel so alone.



An icon in the sport of tennis, Serena Williams has been vocal about her struggles with depression throughout the years. More recently, Serena Williams has talked about her battle with postpartum depression after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. She continues to be a voice for other athletes with mental illness by speaking openly on the subject and trying to break down harmful stigmas.



Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman has been open about her struggle with mental health. In 2018, Raisman was one of many gymnasts who testified against USA gymnast doctor Larry Nassar for sexual abuse. The abuse resulted in PTSD for Raiman, but she is now taking steps to prioritize her mental health, especially since her retirement from the sport. "I'm prioritizing my mental health and practicing self-compassion" Raisman said in an interview with USA Today. "It's hard to put into words how much (the abuse by Nassar) impacted me. ... I feel like the sexual abuse kind of took away that trust in myself, which I'm really struggling to get that back. PTSD has transferred into different parts of my life. I'm getting better at trusting in my gut and believing in myself if something isn't right."



Sam Mikulak is a six-time U.S. national all-around gymnastics champion and a three-time Olympian. Mikulak has recently opened up about his mental health struggles. He said they were a blend of immense self pressure and avoidance of internal conflict. After years of build-up and unhappiness, he reached a breaking point to seek self-reflection.


After making the realization that therapy could be a good resource for anyone of any mental state, he was able to better accept his internal battles. “That was a big shift that I have had over the past couple years,” Mikulak said during a recent panel. “[Therapy] is also just a great resource to use to make yourself better, even if you are in a strong mental health state.”



Noah Lyles, the reigning 200m world champion, posted to social media in late 2020 that he’s recently gone on antidepressant medication. Lyles’s tweet has been liked, shared and commented on thousands of times, and reopened the important conversation about mental health among runners. He wrote, “Recently I decided to get on antidepressant medication. That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Since then I have been able to think with out the dark undertone in mind of nothing matters.”



Simone Manuel is the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal in swimming. She has been open and candid about the importance of prioritizing her mental health. "Mental health is so crucial because it contributes to how you navigate through this world and what you think of yourself." Manuel said in an interview with Glamour magazine in 2020. "I've been seeing a sports psychologist since I was 15 and I use that to talk about my experiences as a Black swimmer and a Black woman in this world. I think that it genuinely has helped me be able to handle some of the hardships or the experiences that I've dealt with in my life. It’s such a powerful, powerful tool to be able to exercise your mind and strengthen your mind."



Raven Saunders, who was fifth in the women’s shot put at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 opened up about her depression and anxiety. In January 2018, she felt so alone that she thought about ending her life. She says that a text to an old therapist pulled her back and now she works on helping others as an advocate for mental health awareness. Saunders is featured in a nine-minute documentary called “An Olympic Athlete Takes on Depression.” Released in May 2021, it is the first installment in the Well Beings “Out of the Dark” web series and is available on WellBeings.org and as part of the PBS Short Docs collection on PBS Voices.


Champion weightlifter Kate Nye made her international debut in 2018 and won silver at the IWF Junior World Championships. In 2019, at one of the heights of her competitive weightlifting career, Nye was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Since her diagnosis Kate has used her platform as an athlete to continue to open up the dialogue when it comes to all mental health disorders. She wants to continue to have uncomfortable conversations about her diagnosis, if it means helping others understand what it means to be bipolar. In an article with ESPN, she said "I want to continue to break down barriers when it comes to mental health and elite athleticism. I wish the stigmas surrounding mental health conditions didn't exist."




In our eyes, all of these athletes won gold! But it's not just Olympic athletes in the world's eye who deal with pressure from work and life. Things like anxiety and depression can affect anyone and everyone. So whether you're trying to take care of your own mental health or looking to support those around you, you are not alone.


If you or a loved one have a mental health condition, consider joining one of our local Support Groups to meet peers or families who are going through the same experience you are on your mental health journey. Check out our local support groups here.

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