Olympians’ Trials and Tribulations with Mental Health

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1), Emma Shuen Lee (21-O1), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2), Rakshita Murugan (21-E1), Tiew Zuo Yuan, Richard (21-I2)

Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)
 


Introduction

Everyone expected American gymnast Simone Biles to come to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to make history — after all, with a total of 32 Olympic and world medals, she is arguably the most accomplished athlete of all time. And she did, albeit not in the way the world anticipated. 

After stumbling during the qualifying rounds and losing herself midair during the Yurchenko double pike (which she usually completes with ease), Biles pulled out of the women’s team final, citing the reason of safeguarding her mental health. It was one of the first times an athlete of her calibre made such a strong statement on setting their boundaries. 

While broadly positive, the reactions to her withdrawal remain divided, with some saying that quitting reflects poor mental resilience; while others hails her courage and strength to prioritise her health as an inspiration. 

Taking to social media, Biles tweeted, “the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” Her exit from the Tokyo Olympics, as well as the resulting opinions, are significant because it fuels the conversation of the place of mental health in the realm of competitive sport. Is it fair for athletes to continue being treated like commodities, a means for gaining national pride and prestige, or should we instead start valuing them as human beings who make mistakes? In the following paragraphs, we delve deeper into the issue of mental health in relation to sports and how it is being dealt with.

The mental health of Olympics athletes

    The mental health problem among athletes has long been left unnoticed by the public. People are so used to the idea that athletes are “superhuman”. As such, the high expectations form both the audience and the athletes themselves put athletes’ mental health at stake. This has led to some specific mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, depression and even suicide. 

    Before Biles, many athletes had also voiced out their struggle against mental problems. For example, Michael Phelps, a swimmer with a record 23 gold medals, once mentioned that he contemplated suicide after the 2012 Olympics while wracked with depression.

Biles is not alone in suffering from mental health issues during the Tokyo Olympics. Skateboarder Nyjah Huston also opened up about his struggles. He was placed seventh in the street skateboarding tournament on 25 July this year. He shared in an Instagram post that the pressure of being an internationally renowned athlete “isn’t easy at times” and that he’s often “really hard” on himself when he does not win. Sprinter Allysom Felix is also learning to make mental health a “priority” and knowing when to seek help.

It is evident that mental health issues are highly prevalent among Olympians. In fact, these athletes are especially vulnerable due to the public and financial pressures and a lack of mental health resources.

How the Olympics deals with it 

There is no doubt that the Olympics is proof for the physically well, but its grip on ensuring the mental health and stability of its athletes begs to differ. On the 30th of July, Biles, who had been expected to win six golds in Tokyo, took to Instagram, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.” 

The Olympics’ blatant disregard for athletes’ mental health shows a clear lack of respect for the athletes as human beings, and instead reduces them to mere pawns in a cruel and relentless race to the top. Olympians are not superhuman beings exempt from the laws of physiology; mind and body cannot be mutually exclusive. 

Conclusion 

Underneath the international event’s shiny prestige, the Olympics has some issues it needs to settle. Certainly, before it can achieve its goal of uniting nations in world peace, it must first care for the mental health of its athletes. While more athletes opening up about their personal struggles is a big step in the right direction, the International Olympic Committee itself needs to do more as the governing body of the event. It can possibly start by raising awareness and bringing more attention to mental health issues. 

At the same time, the cheering audiences around the world should also remember that every athlete they are watching is a human being who requires support and kindness just like any other person. The public should adopt an understanding attitude that encourages athletes at both their highest moments, and their lowest.

Bibliography

  1. Rhodes, J., & Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Face. (n.d.). Commentary: Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from Tokyo 2020 should be applauded. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/simone-biles-gym-tokyo-olympics-2020-vault-team-us-mental-health-2080311
  2. Guardian News and Media. (2021, August 1). Simone Biles on last olympic chance after withdrawal from Floor final. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/aug/01/simone-biles-gymnastics-floor-exercise-olympics-tokyo-2020-withdrawal
  3. ‘OK not to be OK’: Mental health takes top role at Olympics. AP NEWS. (2021). Retrieved 11 August 2021, from https://apnews.com/article/2020-tokyo-olympics-swimming-gymnastics-sports-mental-health-0766e3e512f877254b11b1cf99710473.
  4. Orbey, E. (2021, July 27). The radical courage of Simone Biles’s exit from the Team USA Olympic Finals. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/sports/replay/the-radical-courage-of-simone-biless-exit-from-the-team-usa-olympic-finals
  5. Leiker, E. (2021, August 3). Simone Biles at the OLYMPICS: Everything to know about Team Usa star at Tokyo Games. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2021/07/21/get-know-simone-biles-olympics-stars-schedule-age-medal-count/8002480002/

Aunt agatha Advocates: What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Written by: Eliora Tan Yu Xuan (21-E5), Harel Tan Zunn Yong (21-I2), Tan Le Kai (21-I4)

Designed by: Jervis Ch’ng Yun Ping (21-U5)

Introduction: What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that is exhibited in some victims and witnesses of major traumatic and disturbing events, such as sexual violence, war, and natural disasters.  

In the past, PTSD was often associated with veterans, and was therefore given many names, such as “shell shock” and “combat fatigue” after World War I and II respectively. However, with time, psychologists discovered that it was not only veterans who might suffer from PTSD – there exists other groups of individuals who had similar symptoms, and were therefore diagnosed with the same condition. Like other mental health disorders, anyone can develop PTSD, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. Therefore, we need to be aware of its symptoms,, the various ways to support those suffering from PTSD, as well as what not to say to them. 

What are the Symptoms? 

As a whole, there are 17 symptoms of PTSD, but the most common symptoms include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative shifts in thoughts and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. 

Intrusive memories are characterised by severe, perturbing thoughts and feelings linked to negative memories, which come back to haunt someone long after the triggering event has passed. One may re-experience the traumatic event repeatedly via sudden relapses when reminded of the incident, or even through harrowing nightmares. 

Individuals may also avoid making conversations about their experiences, and intentionally shun away from any place, activity or people which remind them of the traumatic event. 

Victims of PTSD experience negative changes in thinking and mood, which include a sense of hopelessness, a bleak view of the world around them, or a sense of detachment from their loved ones. Memory loss is also a possible symptom of PTSD, given that individuals often seek to forget the haunting encounter.

Lastly, changes in physical and emotional reactions occur in terms of insomnia, irritability, guilt, shame, and a wealth of emotions. 

These symptoms have varying levels of intensity, depending on an individual’s ability to cope with the traumatic event. One may experience more of these symptoms when put under intense stress, or when constantly reminded of the shocking experience. 

Ways to Support Those with PTSD 

When we try to support those with PTSD, the very first step is to be mindful of our words and actions. It would also be helpful to educate ourselves about PTSD given that it is often misunderstood and there is a stigma attached towards it. 

One way of supporting PTSD patients is to lend them a listening ear and listen to their thoughts without any expectations or judgements. While we should never force them to open up about their emotions , we can be there for them when they are ready to talk.

A person with PTSD may find the need to air out their negative emotions in relation to the traumatic event as this is part of the healing process. We  should practice active listening to actively engage with the PTSD patient, and not undermine or compare their experiences with others as we do not fully understand what they are experiencing.

Another way of supporting those with PTSD is to encourage them to seek professional treatment from a psychiatrist. PTSD is a mental condition that is commonly trivialised by many, and this very stigma may cause  potential victims to be hesitant to seek treatment. 

As such, we could encourage them to seek help by being by their side every step of the way and going through the treatment process with them. This could give them more assurance and make them more inclined to seek treatment. 

How People with PTSD Cope

There are a few ways one could cope with PTSD. 

Some PTSD patients live with PTSD by finding ways to distract themselves from their traumatic memories. This can be done via a multitude of methods such as regular exercise, picking up a hobby or making new friends. These methods  help them to avoid being reminded of their traumatic experiences, enabling them to lead normal lives.

Other PTSD patients might resort to seeking counselling to cope with the trauma. Counseling offices can offer a safe and calm space for PTSD patients to speak their emotions without any fear of being judged. Having a trained professional  available to offer support and guidance will help in their long-term recovery.

Some PTSD victims also find it relaxing to journal their thoughts and have a consistent place to go back to in order to write and process their experiences. Research has shown that people struggling with PTSD benefit from keeping a journal, including experiencing fewer flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories, helping them slowly reconnect to people and places that they may otherwise want to avoid.

What Not to Say to Someone with PTSD 

  1. “Stop being so dramatic”

This statement trivializes the experience of one suffering from PTSD. While what is ‘traumatic’ varies from person to person, these are frightening experiences to those suffering from PTSD, and they continue to suffer from stress and fright from the experience. To dismiss  their very real experiences as an exaggeration can be extremely hurtful and demeaning. 

  1. “It is all in your head.”

While most mental disorders are indeed psychological, this statement implies that PTSD is simply born from imaginations and can easily be ‘forgotten’. The truth can’t be any further. PTSD symptoms are recurring  and often instill genuine fear and stress comparable to their actual experiences. In other cases, avoidance symptoms occur as sufferers try to block out thoughts and reminders of the event, which is unhealthy because of the extreme mental duress . PTSD sufferers often need psychotherapy and medication as treatment, recovery is not as simple as ‘getting it out of your head’. 

  1. “People have been through worse”

Yes, we all know people have been through worse, but it is again trivialising the experiences of those suffering from PTSD. When we feel hurt, we would appreciate for those around us to express their care and concern, not for others to say statements that trivialise our experiences. The same goes for PTSD patients, who are battling their demons and would like to experience care and support. 

  1. “Do you act up in public?”

News articles may often report of PTSD sufferers ‘acting up in public’ or portrayed as such in movies. While it is true certain triggers, which may often seem out of the blue, can cause freight and irrational actions, it varies from person to person. For example, only 49% suffer flashbacks, which often triggers ‘acting up’. Most will experience stress and freight but will not act irrationally. Most are undergoing therapy as well to cope with their PTSD. It is good to exercise compassion and empathy and understand it is often out of their control. 

Conclusion 

While PTSD is more often associated with war veterans, it is not only limited to war veterans but those who suffer traumatic experiences as well. There could be people around us that may suffer from PTSD, making it all the more important for us to reduce this stigma that may trivialise and mock their experiences. It is important we care for these individuals who exist in our community and  educate ourselves to know what they have been and are going through. 

Bibliography

  1. Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967 
  2. NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2019, May). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd 
  3. Torres, F. (2020, August). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd 
  4. Wall, S. (2021, June 14). What are the 17 Symptoms of PTSD? | PTSD Awareness Month. Cumberland Heights. https://www.cumberlandheights.org/blogs/17-symptoms-of-ptsd/ 
  5. Washkowiak, K. (2020, January 15). 10 Things Not to Say to Someone With PTSD (And Some Alternatives). Yahoo! News. https://sg.news.yahoo.com/10-things-not-someone-ptsd-100434798.html
  6. MacDonald, B. et al. (2017, 18 October). Prevalence of pain flashbacks in posttraumatic stress disorder arising from exposure to multiple traumas or childhood traumatization https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24740527.2018.1435994