Team USA take proactive approach on mental health at Beijing Games

BEIJING, Feb 8 (Reuters) – U.S. Olympics officials said they learned lessons from the Tokyo Games about supporting athletes’ mental health, taking a proactive approach in Beijing, where isolation and COVID fears -19 have increased stress.

Four-time gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles rewrote the playbook on mental health in Tokyo, championing the well-being of athletes in a conversation once considered taboo that nonetheless resonated from the Summer Games to the winter ones. read more

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) conducted mental health screenings around anxiety and depression last year to get a sense of where athletes were before the Beijing Games and has brought a host of mental health resources to the competition. read more

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“One of the comments we got after Tokyo was, ‘Well, I didn’t have a crisis, so I didn’t go near it,'” USOPC director of mental health services Jessica Bartley told Reuters.

“So, we were trying to be very clear that we’re not just here for the crisis. We’re there for prevention, maintenance and mental health.”

As if the stress of competing on the world’s biggest stage wasn’t great enough, competitors at the Beijing Games are facing isolation and anxiety over whether a positive COVID-19 test could derail their Olympic dreams.

Beijing 2022 Olympic Games – Figure Skating – Team Event – Pair Skating – Free Skating – Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China – February 7, 2022. Alexa Knierim of the United States and Brandon Frazier of the United States react after his performance. REUTERS/Phil Noble

American figure skater Vincent Zhou became the latest to see his Olympic dreams shattered by the pandemic, announcing on Monday that he had withdrawn from this week’s men’s singles competition after testing positive. read more

“Some athletes are losing sleep over it,” said Bartley, hired in September 2020 in what was hailed as a “first-of-its-kind” role with the USOPC.

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“Some of our athletes even stay in their rooms before they compete so they can train and then stay on their own and not be as involved in some of the activities that take place at the Games.”

Routine check-ins with athletes are part of Team USA’s holistic approach, with team building activities, movies and games also available to help relieve stress.

Bartley, a former college soccer player with a doctorate in clinical psychology, said she hopes to help do away with outdated ideas about mental health and performance.

“I was from the generation of athletes who would suck it up and rub some dirt,” Bartley said.

“What we’re really discovering, and there’s science and literature behind this, is the fact that addressing a problem before it becomes a crisis or working with someone around their mental health can make you a stronger athlete. “.

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Reporting by Amy Tennery in Beijing, additional reporting by Parniyan Zemaryalai; Edited by Jacqueline Wong

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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