Olympic Games shine a spotlight on mental health

The competitions at this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo share the world stage with a focus on mental health, as Olympians speak up about the pressures and challenges of performing under such an intense spotlight. Elite American gymnast Simone Biles brought the issue to the forefront at the Games, but many of her fellow athletes are coming forward with supportperspective and demonstrations symbolizing their own struggles.

Add in the fact that these Olympics are proceeding with the host city under a state of emergency over rising COVID-19 infections, which include stricter rules for the athletes while they aren't competing, and it's a lot to mentally juggle.

“Obviously they have anxiety about performance and wanting to succeed, but you have this added issue of a global pandemic, and it's a bit more that they have to often think about," said Dr. David Coppel, a UW Medicine sports psychologist.

He witnessed the environment of the Olympic Games twice as a sports psychologist, for U.S. figure skaters in 1984 and 2002. He’s also treated generations of aspiring Olympians from the Puget Sound region as an original member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Psychology Register.

The motivation that drives Olympic athletes may also help them thrive in Tokyo despite the restrictions and empty venues at this summer’s Games, he suggested.

“A lot of these athletes have worked so hard under these difficult conditions to make it,” Coppel said. “They're going to have to be prepared for being flexible and adaptive.”

UW Medicine