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Athletes’ mental health in the spotlight with Biles exit

Superstar gymnast withdraws from Olympic events, to both praise and criticism

Simone Biles, of the United States, watches gymnasts perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. Biles says she wasn't in right 'headspace' to compete and withdrew from gymnastics team final to protect herself.

AP Photo/Ashley Landis / AP Photo

Simone Biles, of the United States, watches gymnasts perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. Biles says she wasn't in right 'headspace' to compete and withdrew from gymnastics team final to protect herself.

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High-profile withdrawals of gymnast Simone Biles from the Tokyo Olympics and tennis player Naomi Osaka from the French Open brought public attention to mental health and, specifically, the mental challenges athletes face.

Both Osaka and Biles received criticism for their decisions to step down from competition, with critics saying they should have remained mentally tough and gone through with this aspect of their job. But they also received praise from people who were glad to see these women advocating for their own health.

Dr. Amy Sherell Walker, Ph.D., is a psychologist who counsels both adults and adolescent athletes. She joined Smart Talk in June to discuss “mental toughness” and the ideals our society puts on athletes.

For more on mental health issues plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare, check out WITF’s Transforming Health, a partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

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