Last month, gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of the Olympic individual all-around competition to prioritize her mental health. Since then, the mental health of athletes has been widely discussed.
Dr. Tony Kemmochi is an Intermountain Health sports psychologist who said he is happy with Olympic gymnast Simone Biles for prioritizing her mental health as an elite athlete. According to Kemmochi, the Olympic environment is very hard on athletes. In fact, he said athletes in general have many of the same struggles.
He said a lot of this stems from athletes being conditioned to seek and need control, as well as meeting expectations others have of them.
“It’s really hard to have an end game because there is always a next step or phase that you can get to," he said. "It’s really hard for athletes to ever feel like they’re good enough. If you endure that for years and years, you can imagine that sometimes the mind just breaks down.”
Kemmochi said it is especially important to be aware of children in sports. If athletes learn to speak their mind at a young age, it will help them in the future to set boundaries and not conceal their struggles.
He also said it’s important for the general public to stop responding to athletes with judgement and criticism.
“Athletes themselves are really critical of themselves, so it just adds to that criticism," he said.
Kemmochi encourages athletes to take care of themselves, and seek help if they need it. He said having struggles does not make an athlete weak.
“I think naturally they learn that it’s not okay to take care of themselves, it’s not okay to take a break," he said. "But in reality, taking a break can be one of the wisest things that you can do. If you abuse your body or mind, it’s not necessarily for the best outcome.”
Kemmochi is excited to see the outcome as the public shows more interest in athlete mental health, and hopes more athletes can feel the support they have.