Earlier this week I saw a tweet from a largely unpopular British journalist regarding the Olympic athlete Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of events in a bid to protect her mental health. She was criticised for letting her teammates, country and fans down along with being called a quitter. Her actions were described by that same journalist with a large following as anything but brave and heroic.
I’m not a fan of sport, I haven’t followed the Olympics and whilst I’m aware of Simone Biles as a medalled gymnast that’s as far as my knowledge of her goes. But for me, the point I wish to make, is that this both is and isn’t about her. If she’d withdrawn from the competition because she was experiencing a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right physically, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I wouldn’t be writing this post. She highly likely wouldn’t be slated for an injury. I can’t imagine headlines would blame her reading that it was her fault and that she’d let people down all for being someone who can, like all of us, get hurt. She removed herself from further Olympic events after experiencing a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right mentally and by some was thrown under a bus.
I go through phases of being angry, disappointed and upset regarding the media’s response to some mental health stories but mostly I’m exhausted by it all. In the world of fame if people speak up whilst in a difficult place they’re making themselves vulnerable to these concerning, and in my opinion, morally wrong headlines which can be dangerous. By invalidating those who stand up for their mental health and calling them “quitters” it sends the wrong message that we shouldn’t prioritise ourselves and instead keep going with a stiff upper lip, until what we hit breaking point?
This is where the double standard kicks in. If they don’t speak up, are pushed over the edge and we lose them the internet blows up with stories questioning why they didn’t seek help, branding it a national tragedy with attempts at positivity and support encouraging anyone struggling to say something which can feel like insincere hot air. Take the Olympics out of the equation all together for a second and I think it shows immense strength of character to stand up and say that something isn’t ok whilst feeling far from 100% knowing there’s an high chance of receiving media backlash. Remove celebrity status and the media altogether and I firmly believe that anyone opening up about mental health concerns is showing bravery.
With every couple of years that go by as headlines like this pop up I can’t help but wonder when the lesson will finally be learnt. In 2020 the world lost Caroline Flack and the media was noted as playing a part and being responsible for the decline of her mental health. Much like my lack of interest in sport, I don’t follow reality television and didn’t watch any programmes she was involved with but I still felt upset by her loss. I am still upset by what is happening all these months later. Shortly after her passing the hashtag #bekind gained momentum. It was originally created by a mother who lost her son to suicide and wanted to stand up to online trolling. Whilst the hashtag has reached millions of individuals over social media platforms and I whole heartedly agree with it’s message I think this week’s online treatment of Simone Biles goes to show that over a year later on the whole that we still aren’t being kind. The words are out there but it feels like the message isn’t being understood despite being as clear as one of the last posts Caroline Flack ever shared.
The situation is bad enough but when you add the global pandemic we’ve all been faced with in the last 18 months to me it just feels even worse. The pandemic has caused loses for us all whether they be small or large and I think we’ll be seeing the effects of this for many years to come. We’ve lost normal routines, social interaction, physical contact, loved ones, a sense of security, jobs, homes and in some cases a complete sense of purpose. Covid made me realise why solitary confinement is used in prisons as the ultimate punishment as the repercussions of being sat in the same 4 walls and living alone without work to show up for gradually crept up on me often leaving me feeling not myself. I’ve seen and heard a lot more people expressing anxious tendencies about the world reopening after us being shut away for so long and low feelings from what became our new normal. As Covid has affected each and every one of us for many this means we understandably aren’t as tough and resilient as we perhaps were prior to the outbreak. Within my social circle I’ve noticed people seem more open to these conversations now than ever before. I think that’s because there’s been a sense of united struggling and it often got too tiresome saying everything was fine when we all knew nothing was normal.
In light of this I think we need the message of #bekind more than ever before.