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Does Support for Simone Biles Show That America Is Taking Mental Health More Seriously?

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Reactions to Olympian Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the games to take care of her mental health have not been without sharp criticism. But the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with many supporting her decision.

In fact, it got me wondering if this is a sign that the nation is finally starting to take the issue of mental health more seriously. If so, it’s a wonderful sign that perhaps people who suffer from mental illnesses might get the attention they need.

Reuters reported that after Biles pulled out of the rest of the games, she received an outpouring of support from other athletes. Swimmer Michael Phelps told NBC that her decision “broke my heart” but that “if you look at it, mental health over the last 18 months, is something that people are talking about.”

Phelps, who won 23 gold medals, “has publicly discussed his own battle with depression, including contemplating suicide,” according to Reuters.

Olympic swimmer Erica Sullivan, who won a silver medal, also expressed her issues with mental health. She said:

I’m not facing a fraction of the pressure that Simone is, but there was a time in 2018 when I started getting psychological help for my issues, and there was a time when it was so bad that my coach told me I can’t keep racing like this and I will not be racing until I get better.

Reuters contrasted the reaction to Biles with that of Australian rower Sally Robbins, who quit the games in 2004 after experiencing a serious bout of anxiety. The response that was given over 15 years ago was brutal. She was castigated by her teammates, one of which slapped her at an event. A newspaper nicknamed her “Lay-Down Sally.”

Like Biles, Robbins later explained that “she had pushed herself beyond her physical capabilities to please others.”

It seems that these responses might represent a turning point for the subject of mental health. Much of the taboo associated with people who suffer from various mental illnesses is dissipating. Normally, the only time America has a national conversation about mental health is when a school shooting or other type of tragedy occurs.

But even that discussion tends to be lost in the narratives that are pushed by the activist media, which seems more interested in figuring out whether they can rev up fears about white supremacist terror or exploit it to push a gun control agenda. It seems that the chattering class would rather politicize these shootings than get to the bottom of them.

Still, these conversations are necessary. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, mental health disorders are not as rare as some would think. Their website notes that mental illness “account for several of the top causes of disability in established market economies” and that “an estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older – about 1 in 4 adults – suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”

Many who have suffered from mental illness deal with it by themselves, putting on a happy face for their friends and family. RedState’s Scott Hounsell addresses this issue in a recent piece. He wrote:

I had withdrawn from everyone in my life including my wife and kids. It required that I be medicated with some of the highest dosages of medications they recommend, in order to best treat the ongoing chemical imbalance. As I spiraled, I found myself contemplating suicide, figuring that my loved ones would be better off without me as an anchor in their lives.

He’s not alone. I’ve faced my own mental illness demons when I was a younger man – and it almost killed me. This is one of the reasons why I supported Biles’ decision. The bottom line is that mental illness is no joke. Johns Hopkins Medicine also notes that “most people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder – most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.”

Even those who don’t suffer from mental illness are susceptible to being harmed by it. Anyone with a friend or family member who has mental health problems can attest to this reality. Hopefully, this conversation will lead to more productive discussions on mental health and actual solutions. It would be a shame for this topic to become ignored as we move on to our next national news story.