Mental Health Struggles: From Olympians to Professionals to College Athletes

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    Simone Biles won bronze in Balance Beam. Photo courtesy allure.com

    When the 2021 Tokyo Olympics opened on July 23, there was high pressure for gymnast Simone Biles to win gold in her events. This did not happen.

    After receiving four gold medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were high expectations for Biles to win gold for the US, but she withdrew from competing in the team all-around finals, individual all-around, vault, uneven bars and the floor exercise.

    The reason Biles withdrew from five out of six events was something that gymnasts call “the twisties.”

    The twisties is when a gymnast becomes disoriented while in mid-air. If this happens, it is hard for them to land safely from their flip and could cause serious injury.

    Another name for the twisties that golf and baseball fans may have heard of is the “yips.”

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    The yips is when a player is unable to overcome a large sense of nervousness. In golf, it causes players to not be able to putt because of their shaky hands, and in baseball, it causes pitchers to be unable to throw.

    One well known case of the yips is MLB player Rick Ankiel. 

    “I had no idea what was happening,” Ankiel said during an interview with Barstool Gold. “Everything I had always used to up to that point to get myself back on track wasn’t working. I would try to throw a pitch, and all of a sudden it would launch off the backstop or bounce something. I had no idea what was going on.”

    Ankiel left the major leagues to play in the minor leagues to get past his yips. After seven years, Ankiel made a return to his team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

    While mental health is a big issue in professional sports, it is also an issue among college athletes.

    According to the American Psychological Association, 41.6% of college students struggle with anxiety and 36.4% struggle with depression. While these statistics are only based on all college students, college athletes could experience these on a larger level. For example, in a study done by the NCAA, the third leading cause of death for college athletes from 2004-08 was suicide.

    College athletes have a rigorous schedule. They have to balance hours-long practices, sometimes multiple times a day, with school, work, and their social life. It is a task that feels impossible, but many students are put through.

    When it comes to mental health, there are some warning signs that can help identify if you or someone you know needs to seek help:

    • Extreme mood changes
    • Avoiding social activities and friends
    • Changes in sleeping schedules, such as sleeping too much or too little
    • Changes in eating, such as eating too much or too little
    • Overuse of substances, such as drugs and alcohol
    • Having stomach aches, headaches, and other pains that have no cause
    • Thoughts of suicide

    Mental health is not talked about enough, whether it be with athletes or everyone else.

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