Can Aiming for Gold Be a Mental Health Hazard? – The Wall Street Journal

This week, Olympic athletes have been especially open about their experiences with mental health—thanks in large part to conversations started by superstars Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. 

Experts say those displays of vulnerability could supercharge already ongoing conversations around mental health, some of which started during the pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd and anti-Asian and anti-Hispanic hate crimes. These conversations are much needed as the world prepares for what could be an impending mental-health crisis, especially among young people, they said. 

How has the pandemic affected mental health generally? 

The percentage of adults experiencing anxiety and depression increased during the pandemic, with the largest jump occurring among 18-29 year-olds, according to a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People have struggled with sleep disorders, loss of appetite, lethargy, and loneliness, according to medical experts. 

“Over the last 17 months, we have been dealing with this prolonged period of recurring fear and trauma and uncertainty,” said Amy Frieman, Hackensack Meridian Health’s chief wellness officer. “There’s no doubt that Covid is impacting our mental health and well-being, and even our greatest athletes are not immune to that.” 

What about for athletes? 

Many athletes fall into this vulnerable age group. Athletes of all ages have experienced tremendous loss and adversity, including loss of loved ones and jobs. The prospect of catching Covid has created a lot of anxiety, in part, because of the uncertain long-term effects of infection. Some people experience effects on heart and lung function that can persist for weeks or even months. The lockdowns also affected their ability to train and see family and friends.