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Simone Biles' Olympic decision puts mental health in spotlight

Simone Biles' Olympic decision puts mental health in spotlight
Posted at 3:42 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 22:04:49-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Simone Biles' stunning decision to withdraw from several Olympic events continues to shine a global spotlight on the issue of mental health.

“I was very surprised by her decision, because you don’t expect that,” said Dr. Kimberly Wagner, a Del Mar-based sport psychologist who has worked with dozens of athletes, from the high school level to professionals.

“I was just really proud of her, because I thought, how courageous of her to be able to speak in a public forum,” said Dr. Wagner.

In stepping aside, Biles said she wanted to focus on her mental health, and felt the 'weight of the world.'

Dr. Wagner says elite athletes like Biles face unique pressures.

“They are really under a microscope in every single thing they’re doing, not only in their athletic career but also in their personal life. They are critiqued by the general public … A lot of people put their personal passion into them. The athletes want to win for the fans,” said Dr. Wagner.

She says it's not uncommon for those pressures to impact mental health.

“One in four probably experience some type of mental health issue at some point during their career … It can definitely can make a person feel anxious. They’re worried. Am I going to be able to perform to the level that everybody wants? It can also bring on some depression, depression because they’re not performing as well as they would like. It can also bring on family and relationship issues,” said Dr. Wagner.

Those issues are usually not talked about.

“They are taught to be physically tough. They are taught not to be vulnerable,” said Dr. Wagner.

In the aftermath of Biles' decision, on social media, there were posts labeling Biles 'weak' and a ‘quitter.’

Dr. Wagner calls those reactions disappointing, but not surprising. She hopes Biles' honesty will help lessen the stigma around mental health.

“I think there's an opportunity for her to make other people feel like it's okay to talk about it, and more importantly, to ask for help,” said Dr. Wagner.