Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Why Simone Biles’ Mental Health Struggle Matters for Military Troops

Image of Gymnasts posing for a picture. Click to open a larger version of the image. Army Sgt. Samantha Schultz (left, with a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, sharing a happy moment with Mexico's Mariana Arceo, center, and Cuba's Leydi Moya) is competing in modern pentathlon at the Tokyo Olympics. Like other athletes, Schultz sought the help of a psychologist to prepare for the games (Courtesy photo).

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Total Body Preventive Health - Dental, Medical & Mental

Like many Americans, military service members and commanders have taken notice of the withdrawal from Olympic competition last week of superstar gymnast Simone Biles, who cited mental health concerns after uncharacteristic missteps in the early stages of competition.

"Gymnasts are some of the strongest athletes in the world and elite masters of complex skills unrivaled by other athletes," said Air Force Lt. Col. Regina Owen, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and a professor at the Uniformed Services University (USU) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Many members of the military have comparable traits, she said. Like Biles, service members are typically young, fit, well-trained and routinely strong - both physically and mentally.

To Owen, Biles is "an elite individual" who displayed great strength by forgoing Olympic competition and chose instead to focus on building her mental strength.

"She had more numerous endorsements - i.e. "mental noise" - clamoring for her attention than most American Olympians leading up to the Olympics," she said.

"Those types of distractions undermine mental wellbeing and physical capabilities."

Owen likened Biles's situation to military service members who are training or preparing for deployments, when "mental focus is essential [and] improved physical preparation will follow."

"Military members need to be empowered to prioritize building mental strength and provided adequate resources to avoid distractions undermining their mental wellbeing" Owens said.

Biles returned to compete in the balance beam final on Tuesday, August 3rd, the last event of the women's gymnastics competition, and won a bronze medal.

The message of prioritizing mental health fitness and performance psychology has been reverberating throughout the military community, especially in light the global pandemic, when many troops and veterans have reported increased feelings of isolation, depression and increased drinking.

"Mental health is health - period," said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, during a visit to Alaska on July 24. Austin said he's particularly concerned about the number of suicides in the military. He stressed reducing stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance.

Biles, Ledecky, and Boykin signing a 35-ton steel plate
U.S. Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, left, and Katie Ledecky, ship’s sponsors of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 80), and Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, signed a 35-ton steel plate at Newport News Shipbuilding in August 2017 to start advance construction of Enterprise (Photo by U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries, by Matt Hildreth).

"If you're hurting, there are resources available," Austin said. "And I know that our leaders ... are committed to making those resources even more accessible and available."

Nevertheless, social media has been filled with chatter about Biles's decision, with both supporters and detractors weighing in on it. That includes comments by service members, who have accused Biles of being "weak," or worse.

But other elite athletes around the world are increasingly outspoken about their own mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression, and have vigorously supported Biles' decision as smart and brave.

Japanese tennis phenom Naomi Osaka, who grew up and trained in the United States, unexpectedly withdrew from the French Open tournament earlier this year, citing mental health issues. (Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo opening ceremony, but lost in the third round of the games.)

American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, has even made mental health a centerpiece of his charitable foundation, which focuses on healthy living.

Other professional athletes, past and present, have been increasingly speaking out about mental health issues, including Hall of Fame quarterback and broadcaster Terry Bradshaw and Olympic figure-skating legend Dorothy Hamill.

"Every warrior is an athlete," according to the Consortium for Health and Military Performance at USU's website.

"Nutrition, physical training, resiliency - physical and mental - and recovery between missions and deployments is critical to the success and optimization of the warrior."

Nineteen military athletes are representing the United States at the Tokyo Olympics, including Army Sgt. Samantha Schultz, who has spoken freely about the mental aspect of her training and sought out the help of a psychologist in her preparation for the games. "I've prepared physically and mentally," she said earlier this year.

It's in keeping with the military's concept of Total Force Fitness, which is as much psychological and spiritual as it is physical. That means taking care of your own wellbeing and having the back of those in your unit.

"Take this moment to reach out and support one another." Owen suggested. "The time is now."

You also may be interested in...

Managing Burnout

Video
5/19/2022
Managing Burnout

Burnout is really a state of extreme exhaustion caused by chronic overwhelming stress. Lt. Col. Catherine Callendar, Air Force Deputy Director of Psychological Health, gives some advice on coping with burnout. Learn more at health.mil/mentalhealth.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

Together for Mental Health: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Article
5/13/2022
Every May is Mental Health Month. If you know someone in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line: 800-273-8255. (Photo: MHS Communications)

Health is wealth, especially when dealing with mental well-being. Growing up, kids are taught if they are hurt physically in any area, to seek help. The same should go for anyone’s mental health.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

Fort Riley Summit Tackles Mental Healthcare Shortage

Article Around MHS
5/6/2022
Soldier speaks at podium

Dozen of civilian partners within the local TRICARE network recently collaborated with Fort Riley leadership for an all-day, first-time ever Mental Health Summit April 28. 

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness

MHS Minute | April 2022

Video
5/3/2022
MHS Minute | April 2022

The MHS Minute highlights some of the outstanding work taking place across the Military Health System, including major milestones, events, notable activities, and much more. Help us get the word out about all of the unique, meaningful, and fascinating work taking place across the MHS by watching and sharing the video, which you can download from DVIDs: https://go.usa.gov/xuy7M. This month’s topic is mental health awareness. Check out the entire playlist: https://go.usa.gov/xtAAq

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Current Events

Article
4/29/2022
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Rocio Romo, public affairs specialist at Space Launch Delta 30, spends quality time with her son at Cocheo Park on Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. We celebrate Month of the Military Child in April to celebrate military children whose parents serve the United States. (Photo: U.S. Space Force Airman 1st Class Kadielle Shaw)

Parents can help reassure children who are troubled by news events they see on TV and social media.

Recommended Content:

Month of the Military Child - Celebrating Military Kids | Children's Health | Psychological Fitness

Helping Your Child to Cope with Grief and Losses Related to COVID-19

Article
4/28/2022
Shirley Lanham Elementary School students perform Taiko drumming during a Month of the Military Child celebration aboard the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, April 6, 2022. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Ange-Olivier Clement, Naval Air Facility Atsugi)

Many military children have lost loved ones to COVID-19. How parents can help with the grief.

Recommended Content:

Month of the Military Child - Celebrating Military Kids | Children's Health | Psychological Fitness | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

How to Help Military Children Reconnect After Two Years of the Pandemic

Article
4/25/2022
Airman 1st Class Rocio Romo, Space Launch Delta 30 public affairs specialist, and her son pose for a photo at Cocheo Park on Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, March 25, 2022. During the month of April, we celebrate Month of the Military Child to highlight the sacrifices military children make on the home front while their parents serve the United States. (Photo: Airman Kadielle Shaw, Space Launch Delta 30 Public Affairs)

How parents can help children stressed by more than two years of COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Month of the Military Child - Celebrating Military Kids | Children's Health | Psychological Fitness | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Resources Provide Help: You Are Not Alone

Article
4/22/2022
Military personnel posing for a picture

Life is full of ups and downs. But sometimes life events—financial strain, relationships, isolation, emotional or sexual abuse, stress, and misuse or abuse of alcohol or drugs—can lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide for some. It’s important to remember that you are not alone.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Suicide Prevention | Suicide Prevention Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

Policy Update: Significant Improvements to Mental and Behavioral Health Policies

Article Around MHS
4/4/2022
A U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter flies over the sunset off the northern coast of Haiti in Nov. 2021

New updates to Coast Guard policy loosen restrictions and impacts on service members undergoing mental and behavioral health treatment for conditions including (but not limited to) anxiety and depressive disorders.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness

Anger

Video
2/11/2022
Anger

A brief introduction on anger. How Anger can impact your life and the people around you.

Recommended Content:

Anger | Psychological Fitness

A Healthy Mind and Body: The Psychological Aspects Weight Loss

Article
1/27/2022
Marines with 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in a regimental run to celebrate St. Barbara’s Day at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 13.

It’s essential to dispel the belief that weight loss is a reflection of willpower or discipline – basically, that you can’t lose weight because you don’t want to or you’re not trying hard enough.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Weight Management for Lasting Health

Virtual Hope Box App

Fact Sheet
1/19/2022

The Virtual Hope Box is a smartphone application designed for patients and their behavioral health providers as an accessory to treatment. The VHB contains simple tools to help patients with coping, relaxation, distraction and positive thinking.

Recommended Content:

Solution Delivery Division | Psychological Fitness

Breathe2Relax App

Fact Sheet
1/19/2022

Initially designed for the military community but beneficial for use by anyone, the relaxation app trains you on the “belly breathing” technique that has proven benefits for your overall mental health. Use the app’s breathing exercises to learn and practice the breathing technique on your own or as part of a stress management program supervised by your health care provider.

Recommended Content:

Solution Delivery Division | Psychological Fitness

Six Immediate Health Benefits You Will See If You Lose a Little Weight

Article
1/14/2022
A soldier assigned to the 256th Combat Support Hospital, Twinsburg, Ohio, drinks water from a gallon-sized jug during Combat Support Training Exercise 18-03 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, March 26, 2018. The 256th CSH implemented a goal setting competition, dubbed Dandy Camp, to teach and encourage soldiers to monitor their total carbohydrate intake during the field exercise. The overall goal of Dandy Camp is to educate soldiers about healthy eating choices and encourage soldiers to set and meet goals for themselves.

Losing even a little weight now can have a major impact on your health and quality of life. This long list of benefits might help motivate you to adjust your habits to achieve a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Women's Health | Heart Health | Nutritional Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Sleep

Talking Seasonal Affective Disorder

Article Around MHS
1/4/2022
Military personnel staring out of the window

Holiday blues, seasonal depression, and other terms have been used to describe what is now known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and more often than not, many factors play a role on an individual’s ability to be affected by this disorder each year around the holidays.

Recommended Content:

Depression | Psychological Fitness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 8

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.