Mental health has become a big topic of conversation around the Tokyo Olympics since Team USA gymnast Simone Biles chose to step away from the team and individual all-around competitions to focus on her mental well-being and self-care. Since then, Olympians have been coming forward to share their own battles and offer support to Biles.
Among her supporters was golfer Rory McIlroy, who praised Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka for prioritizing mental well-being and bringing the conversation to the forefront.
“You have to put yourself in the best position physically and mentally and to be at your best, and if you don't feel like you're at that or you're in that position then you're going to have to make those decisions,” McIlroy said. “I'm certainly very impressed with, especially those two women [Naomi Osaka and Biles], to do what they did and put themselves first.”
The Irish Olympic golfer welcomes the conversations. To him, they're like any other health discussions — and shouldn't have a stigma attached.
“I’m glad that at least the conversation has started,” he said. “It’s not taboo anymore. People can talk about it just as (if) somebody has a knee or elbow injury. If you don’t feel right, 100% right mentally, that’s an injury too."
Earlier this year, Naomi Osaka withdrew from Wimbledon to prioritize her mental health.
"Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life," Osaka wrote in a TIME essay earlier this month. "If that’s true, then it was all worth it."
The notion of “powering through it” persists, McIlroy acknowledges. But he says hearing from people like Biles and Phelps about mental health makes a positive impact.
“When you hear the most decorated Olympian ever talk about his struggles and then probably the greatest gymnast ever talk about her struggles, then it encourages more people that have felt that way to come out and share how they felt.”
On Thursday, Biles expressed appreciation about the response she's received, posting on Twitter: “the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”