Simone Biles Gymnastics

In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, United States' Simone Biles waits to perform on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

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To the Editor:

By now we have all heard American gymnast Simone Biles will not be defending her Olympic title after she withdrew from the competition to focus on her mental well-being. As a result of this decision, she is dealing with criticism for “letting down her country."

I wonder what the response would have been if she withdrew because of a twisted ankle or dislocated shoulder?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

As a high-performance athlete, Simone Biles puts herself at risk of physical injury every time she approaches the vault or steps onto the mat. Imagine her doing so without razor focus and having a sense of wellbeing?

Better yet, imagine a time in your life when you were experiencing a significant level of stress, anxiety, grief or pain. Now, imagine sitting down to do your taxes. Are you able to focus? Are you confident that you made the best decisions or remembered everything necessary?

Now, imagine being in that same state of mind and approaching a vault or stepping onto a mat performing skills that could literally kill you. Are you willing to take the chance?

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There has been a recent increase in the willingness of not only athletes, but many people in the public eye to speak up about mental health. I applaud Simone Biles for having the courage to speak up and say she can’t do it.

As I’ve said, if she twisted her ankle and could not compete, we would not hesitate to support her choice. The same support should be given to those who make the choice to prioritize their mental health.

We all, at some time in our life, will struggle or have a challenge with our mental well-being, just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being. Being mentally healthy is about having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we can all face in our lives and to have confidence and self-esteem to be able to make decisions and to believe in ourselves, free of judgement.

Knowing when to step back and get help, whether for a physical or mental issue is paramount in remaining healthy. Take advice from Simone Biles, who is quoted as saying, “We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Lorna Mattern

Executive Director of United Counseling Service

Bennington


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