This week, if you follow the Olympics or not, you have seen numerous articles discussing Simone Biles decision to drop out of the Olympic gymnastics’ competition. She has done so citing her mental health needs. In an interview she stated “We have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too. So, we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” She has often openly discussed her struggles with mental health and her need for therapy. Simone Biles is being praised and applauded, and rightfully so, for making such a bold decision to step away from something she has spent her whole life working on, to focus on her mental health needs. She has put a big spotlight on a problem society has not wanted to fully address which is the need to focus on mental health with the same weight and urgency as we do physical health.
However, one of the things that has kept running through my mind is what would the response have been if she wasn’t the GOAT (greatest of all time) in her sport? What if it had been the girl on the team who took the final spot? If she would have chosen to step away and not compete, what would the media and public response have been? I would argue that it potentially it would have been nothing close to what we have seen. Society looks at people who are already on top in a different way than they do people on the bottom who have not yet “made it”. This is a key part of the bigger problem. Potentially a less recognized Olympic competitor would have been viewed as “mentally weak” and not “able to overcome.”
Simone Biles is the face of gymnastics. She has forever changed the sport and there is no one even close to her level of skill. So, when she steps away, we must look at the situation and say, something must be truly wrong for her to step aside and back out. The bigger problem is that we do not give the same weight to people who do not sit at the top. We blame staff for calling in sick “for no reason.” We say things like, “they just didn’t have what it takes apparently.” This has been evident with our countries drug problem for decades as well. If they are poor or live in poverty, we say they are “crackheads” and focus on the criminal aspects of the issue but if they are middle class or wealthy we say there is “an opioid epidemic” and focus on the treatment.
In The Mandt System when discussing Positive Behavior Supports we say “people can only give what they have”. This means that if the staff are to promote and nurture mental health in the people they are responsible for, they themselves must have their own mental health supported. Do we allow our staff to use their sick time for issues around anxiety and depression or are those days only for health issues of a physical issue? When asked about how to create a safe workplace, do we think only in terms of physical safety for do we include just as fervently emotional and psychological safety? We must understand that to de-escalate a crisis scenario we have to not be in crisis ourselves. That is a key pillar of the Mandt System de-escalation training approach. We must take the lessons from Simone Biles and not only examine them in light her as the GOAT but also examine them for every single person who is struggling with mental health issues. Until access to mental health support and treatment is equal for all people regardless of their title or station in life, it will remain an issue.
Tim Geels, Director of Implementation and Governance