Medals and Mental illness: Olympian sparks dialogue

Today's guest post comes from Julie Maier. Julie holds a Masters degree in social work and is currently a PhD student in the Department of Kinesiology of the University of Maryland (physical approach to cultural studies).  His research interest focuses on the intersection of mental health, gender, sexuality and the body. If you want to contact, you can contact her at

Olympic season brings with it a plethora of news focused on some of the best athletes in the world.  In addition to beads made of performances by Olympic athletes, stories of human interest and tabloid gossip are present in the printed media and online.  In fact, there is to bury your head in the snow to avoid hearing about athletes during this time of the year.  While many focused on the Olympic items are seemingly trivial, some stand out as having the potential to create a world socially fairer.  For example, an Olympian left describing their struggles with something that is relegated to doctors offices or classrooms of Psychology: mental illness.  Although the discussion of the mental athletes can be seen as a form of stigmatization to eliminate this problem, the overall impact is dependent on informed reporting that does not perpetuate misconceptions about various forms of suffering.

After winning the gold medal in the event of men's 1,000 meters speed skating in Sochi, news reports that followed not only detailed Olympic victory the Dutch athlete Stefan Groothuis, but disclosure of his battle with depression.  According to Reuters, Groothuis had struggled with depression for years, which prevents not only his training, but their general ability to enjoy life.  Casert, in an Associated Press article, noted that Groothius depression brought it to the point of contemplating suicide.  Opening up about mental illness, Groothius joins a handful of professional athletes who, over the years, have been living with particular forms of distress such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

The importance of such attention to mental health problems cannot be overstated.  Although no doubt progress is being made to reduce the stigmatization of people living with mental illness, there is still a long way to go.  For example, in the 2014 article published in Psychiatry, Dr. Jennifer Stuber and colleagues discovered that negative attitudes towards people with mental illnesses were common among the general public, as well as some mental health providers.  Participants particularly indicated fear of people with schizophrenia due to the erroneous, that such people are inherently dangerous.  In addition, more than two-thirds of the general public and almost half of the professionals of mental health in the study reported not wanting to someone with schizophrenia to marry his family.  Such stereotypes contribute to an environment in which those who suffer from mental health conditions are subject to various forms of abuse, discrimination and marginalization.  Greater openness about mental health can help to educate the public in general about a topic that arises frequently only in the light of the tragedies tabloid as mass executions and then disappears quickly, sending the message that those with illnesses mental are a threat to public safety and mental health is only appropriate to discuss if they have had lives.

The fact that professional athletes are coming out and talking about their experiences with anxiety is of particular importance.  In the field of sport, a male domain traditionally (and still), mental illness is often equated with weakness.  In fact, historian Dr. Roberta Park (2012) pointed out that the sport was used as a way to toughen the men returning from the war suffering from what now could be considered a form of PTSD (PTSD). The idea that mental illness is a form of weakness or an excuse can be seen in many of the responses to the Royce White NBA player coming out such as obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder (GAD) in 2012, which included death threats.  Such negative reactions, however, only reaffirm the importance of famous athletes expressing their views about mental health.

Although self-disclosure is of course not sufficient in and of itself to drastically change the lives of people with depression, schizophrenia or similar, can have a positive impact on the discourse surrounding mental health.  This depends on the way journalists and other craft and athletes and other public figures, stories of the framework.  For example, one belonging to Groothius headline announced that "Groothuis gold ends years of misery, depression," while another boasted that "Stefan Groothuis overcomes depression and win Olympic gold".  Such a structure can perpetuate the misconception that most mental illnesses can be overcome, to not return, as opposed to an ongoing condition whose severity can decrease and flow throughout life, something that can be handled, although never fully healed.  This is not to discount experience of Groothuis; Perhaps he has done 'surpassed' depression. However, for many suffering from depression--particularly major depressive disorder - never can be enough lucky to be completely free of depression (see widely cited book by psychiatrist Peter Kramer, depression, to know more about this).  With that said, mentioned holders can make people with depression who have fought for years to recover and feel even more marginalized, perhaps by sending the message that mental illness is temporary.

Conversation is desperately needed additional surrounding mental health and stories as the help of Groothius to undermine the profound misunderstanding and stereotypes associated with mental illness.  I hope that one day the athletes coming out with their stories of depression will be a problem, but until then, such disclosures are vital to the health of everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment