Simone Biles: Shining the spotlight on self-care

When U.S. gymnast Simone Biles chose her personal well-being over a chance to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, she sent a message to the world about the importance of self-care and emotional health. She also shined a global spotlight on the mental health crisis among young adults that we are facing in the United States today. 

In 2020, the American Psychological Association reported that young adults ages 18 to 23, who are contemporaries of Biles, suffer from more anxiety and pressure than any other generation. 6.1 out of 10 young adults have experienced significant levels of stress as compared to 5.6 for millennials (ages 24-41), 5.2 for Gen X (ages 42-55), 4.0 for boomers (56-74) and 3.3 for older adults (75+).

In fact, 91% of Gen Z adults say they have felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress. Over time, the prolonged stress can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Biles’ candid admission of stress took tremendous emotional courage. Her actions forced the subject of mental health to the forefront of conversation, illustrated the importance of setting boundaries, and served as an example not only for other athletes, but for all young people facing pivotal moments in their lives.

Biles’ decision to put her own needs first is part of a larger cultural shift around openly discussing self-care. In recent months, multiple high-profile athletes have been outspoken about prioritizing their mental health, including tennis star Naomi Osaka, sprinter Noah Lyle, and weightlifter Kate Nye. And the examples of individuals speaking up about their mental health struggles go well beyond just athletes.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has been brought to the forefront our national conversation. Over the past year, a record number of workers left their jobs, often citing mental health as one of the key factors. According to a survey published by TELUS International, 80 percent of workers said they would consider quitting their jobs for a role that offered better support for their mental well-being.

The need for organizations to continue reducing the stigma around mental health by building a culture of trust and shared experience is critical to fostering safe, inclusive workplaces for employees of all ages. As PR professionals, we not only have the skills to tell these stories and shape the conversations taking place inside corporate America and throughout the media, but we also can influence individuals and institutions to change their views and practices around emotional well-being.

Although as a nation we have come a long way over the past decade in normalizing the discussion around mental health, we still have a long way to go to erase the shame associated with talking about personal struggles. As anxiety and stress continue to rise among young people, we must advocate for access to affordable and reliable mental health care and resources for everyone, particularly those in lower socio-economic communities, and find better solutions for stepping up prevention.

While most of us will never feel the immense strain and pressure of competing in an Olympic event, Biles showed us the power of speaking up and how each of our stories can make a difference in the world. By influencing opinions and moving people to action, we can continue to advance the conversation around mental health and destigmatize mental health issues so that they become more on par with how we view physical health problems.

Photo of Maryanne Lataif

Maryanne Lataif is senior vice president of corporate communications for AEG, the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company.