How Simone Biles showed us all how to prioritise our mental health 2 months ago

How Simone Biles showed us all how to prioritise our mental health

The gymnast has become so much more than just a sporting icon after igniting debate around prioritising her mental health.

American gymnast Simone Biles has been praised by mental health charities and sporting figures from across the world after she decided to withdraw from the Olympic women's team final on Tuesday in order to prioritise her mental health.

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The four-time Olympic gold medalist stepped aside after failing to stick the landing on the vault, saying afterwards: "I have to focus on my mental health."

On Wednesday it was confirmed that the 24-year-old would not be participating in the individual all-round final.

Biles' decision has not only sparked conversation around mental health in sport but has turned the spotlight on wellness and made her so much more than the sporting hero she already was.

Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said: "You've made us so proud.

"We applaud your decision to prioritise your mental wellness over all else and offer you the full support and resources of our Team USA community as you navigate the journey ahead."

Jamaica gymnast Danusia Francis said: "Don't know about you but I think Simone Biles just empowered everyone to put their mental wellbeing above everything else. What a queen. GOAT in more ways than one."

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Meanwhile, former Great Britain gymnast Beth Tweddle, a bronze medallist in 2012, had nothing but praise for Biles and her decision.

She said on BBC One: "Since 2013 she's been undefeated in the all-around so every competition she goes in, everyone expects her to be perfection, and it's just not possible.

"She was strong enough to say: 'I'm just not right today and I've got the belief in the rest of the girls. They know they can step up, that they can do their routines.'

"And she went back in, she was their chief cheerleader, and she was getting the chalk for them. That shows how much of a leader she is, to be able to make that decision.

"We have got to make sure that the health and wellbeing of every athlete is the main priority."

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Rio 2016 gold medallists Sam Quek and Chris Mears both spoke openly about the issue of mental health in sport and the importance of it being treated as seriously as physical injuries are.

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Boxer Manny Pacquiao tweeted: "Once a champion, always a champion. God Bless @Simone_Biles."

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And across Twitter many more were supportive of Biles and how inspiring her words and actions were.

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Charities have also praised Biles' actions. Unicef USA thanked her for "being a role model and showing the world it's OK to prioritise your mental health."

Mental health charity Mind described her as a "role model for women and girls everywhere" and that Biles deserves "our applause, respect, appreciation - and above all our support right now."

Head of Physical Activity at the charity, Hayley Jarvis, told JOE: "Working in elite sports like gymnastics comes with unimaginably high levels of pressure, scrutiny, and comparison. Simone Biles is incredibly brave for speaking out about her mental health and making the decision to prioritise her own wellbeing.

"Our research at Mind has shown that when people in the public eye speak about their mental health, it encourages others to do the same – as many as one in five people have spoken to a loved one as a direct result of seeing a celebrity speak out. This demonstrates how vital it is that people in the public eye continue to speak honestly about their mental health experiences.

"We hope Simone's decision encourages anyone struggling with their mental health to get the help and support they need. We applaud and respect Simone and hope that she is given the space and time she needs to look after her mental health."

Read more from the Olympics:

• Simone Biles pulls out of all-round individual final to 'focus on her mental health'

Team GB storm to another gold in the pool with victory in 4x200m freestyle relay

Team GB women win first gymnastics team medal since 1928