By Emily-Rose Njonde
Posted on December 3, 2021
Simone Biles first became popular for her amazing performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Ever since then, she has not stopped impressing the world with her innovative and genre-redefining talent. So, it was no surprise when the women’s artistic gymnastics was one of the most anticipated events of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Despite this, Simone Biles had the strength to withdraw from the competition due to her deteriorating mental health. Despite being heavily criticized for it, Biles’ decision was an important one for professionals in all fields.
In our capitalistic society, our worth is often decided based on how much we can contribute to the workforce. During the pandemic, many people suffered feelings of loss but also achieved self-discovery because they were finally able to have time to themselves. When your entire life revolves around the work you do, you can begin to feel lost. Simone Biles is but an example of how we all feel. She voiced that before this moment, she has never truly felt like she was worth more than her achievements. Many of us can relate to this feeling of burnout, but people barely talk about it.
Despite being in the era of mental health awareness, it seems to only be acceptable in certain circumstances. People always say things like “it’s okay to not be okay” and “you don’t have to struggle in silence,” yet no one seems to actually mean it. What they mean is that it’s okay to not be okay as long as it does not affect your productivity. It’s okay to struggle, as long as you can push yourself enough for it to not affect your day-to-day. We have glamorized depression. Burnout is very real. It is easy to claim to care about mental health when we are not actually forced to do anything to prove it. Only then do we start to hear claims about weakness, selfishness and ingratitude.
Deteriorating mental health is ugly. It can result in breakdowns, lack of hygiene, and feelings of emptiness and hopelessness. It’s not something to make light of, and yet we hardly have any real conversations surrounding the topic. Simone Biles dropping out of the competition and prioritizing her mental health has the power to make executives reflect on the consequences of overworking their employees.
Simone Biles, unlike many others, has agency. As one of the best athletes in the world, Biles exiting the Olympics may not necessarily have a big impact on her financial future. However, regular employees do not have that power. They cannot simply stop working because they are not okay. Many people force themselves to work through unthinkable pain, because they do not have the ability to speak up for themselves. Simone Biles is starting conversations that will hopefully lead to meaningful change for many in the future.