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Simone Biles Showed Us Mental Health Is as Important as Physical Health

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“Don’t judge me because my struggle does not look like yours.” – Anonymous

Anyone who is even slightly aware of the Olympics has seen the multitude of stories about Simone Biles and her decision to step away from competition. At the height of her career and with so many expectations upon her, she did not feel like she could go on, and for her mental health she decided to step away and just say “I can’t do this today.”

As I watched the story unfold, in the media, on Facebook and in conversations with others, I will be honest, I have been disgusted by so much of the judgment I have seen from people who have no idea of the struggle she is facing. I will preface everything I say by stating, I do not know the path she has walked, and I do not know the struggles she has faced, and I do not understand the battle she is currently fighting.

That is the point, I don’t understand, and I never will because I have not walked a day in her shoes. But I will be honest with you; I don’t have to understand, to be human, and to see how wrong the dismissals, jokes and ridicule directed at her is. So many times in life we are full of opinions about many things, and often those opinions are informed by our own experience, not necessarily the reality of the situation or the experience of others, and this should not happen.

As a man who has battled chronic illness for most of his life, it is interesting the times that I have faced judgment or questioning of my motives, experience, abilities or the nature of my struggle. I’ve been told that my struggle was not mental but only physical, and I have been told that I was using it for my own advantage at times to get out of things I didn’t want to do. Each time this judgment came, it was made by people who had no idea of the battle I was facing, and I see that same thing happened to this brave young lady.

If she had pulled out of the events because of a physical illness or an injury, nobody would even bat an eye. Why should somebody’s mental health be any different than their physical health? Why should she be judged for taking care of herself mentally, when she would not be judged for taking care of herself physically? In reality, aren’t they one and the same – isn’t your mind part of your body? Would she be mocked or ridiculed if she had had a physical injury? If not, then why is she being mocked by some and ridiculed by others for taking care of her mental health?

I have understood more and more as I’ve gotten older the mental toll that my battle is taking on me, and I learned I cannot ignore that, and that my mental health is just as important as my body’s physical health. Stress and pressure can take an enormous toll on the mind and body.

I have witnessed in my own life the times that stress and pressure were so overwhelming that it physically affected me. Why should anyone be surprised that this young lady has lived under enormous pressure and stress, and why should she be criticized for how she is handling it? Would you criticize her for how she was handling a physical injury or her physical health?

As I sat and thought about this, I realized that too often we judge people and make assumptions of them when we have no business doing it, because we have never walked their path or a day in their shoes. Too often those who are struggling mentally are pushed in the shadows, or just spoken of in hushed, demeaning tones as if there’s something wrong with them. In reality, this battle is no different than any other physical battle which somebody might face, and sometimes, it is a lot more serious because the battlefield of the mind is so challenging. At some point we must have the courage to step out and share what is really going on, because only then can we help ourselves and others.

Remember, everyone has a story, and everyone has a reason for why they are the way they are, and why they are handling things the way they are handling them. It would do us good to consider that before judging somebody else, especially when we have never had their experience.

I applaud Simone for her courage, and for being willing to come out and say what was really going on. It would’ve been easy to cover it up with an injury or just say that something else had happened, but instead she had the courage to face it head-on and brought out of the shadows the battle that so many are facing. Her courage serves as an inspiration, and in my mind, she’s more of a hero today than if she had won every gold medal possible at the Olympics this summer.

Karen Salmansohn once said, “Please don’t judge people. You don’t know what it took for somebody to get out of bed, look and feel as presentable as possible and face the day. You never truly know the daily struggles of others.” I could not agree more. If we remember this, I have a feeling we would be a lot less judgmental of the daily struggle than some people face, and instead show the support and understanding that is so needed.

Photo via Simone Biles’ Official Facebook

Originally published: August 6, 2021
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