The Virgin Pulse team had the chance to talk with Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated gymnast and mental health advocate, about placing mental health first, the opportunity it presents for individuals and companies, and how organizations should think about mental health strategies as part of ongoing wellbeing strategy.
You famously, and gracefully, placed your mental health first during a competition. Did you have any role models, leaders, or tools that helped you make this decision?
Simone: There are a lot of people who have courageously opened up about their own challenges with mental health and I think it’s really helping to break the stigma around mental health. It’s hard to name them all but I would say Kevin Love openly speaking out on his own personal mental health was inspiring, as well as Naomi Osaka taking a stand for herself that come to mind for me. At the end of the day, I needed to do what was best for me. I knew it was the best decision for myself, not only physically but just as importantly mentally! I think that’s one of the messages I hope people understand, that our mental health is just as important as our physical health.
How did you find radical acceptance of your own mental state? What advice would you give to others to do the same?
Simone: It’s been a process for me and in many ways one that I’m still processing to this day. It’s tough at times but I’m happy that there are so many resources like therapy to help as well as a strong family and close friends to lean on. At the end of the day you have to take care of yourself no matter the circumstances. The more you neglect yourself the more it reflects in daily activities.
Is there anything surprising to you that people do not understand about mental health?
Simone: The most surprising is how people don’t treat mental health the same as a physical health. There is a lot of messaging around the importance of our physical health (exercise, nutrition, etc), from grade school thru adulthood, yet not nearly as much as the importance of our mental health. I also think it’s important for people to know that help is available, and that it’s ok to ask for help.
Most of the world’s population receives health and wellbeing benefits from an employer. What advice would you give to people leaders to help them help their employees?
Simone: I think providing mental health & wellbeing benefits is a great start, but encouraging the importance of mental wellness and making it part of the company culture would really help break the stigma and normalize the conversation so employees feel empowered.
With so many of us experiencing loneliness, burnout, and feeling we need to always be on, it can feel like we are always under the spotlight. What advice would you give to people to help them feel more connected to others to support their mental health?
Simone: I can certainly relate and it’s something I am working on myself! For me, therapy has been a big help. We live in the digital age and are always connected, especially through social media. But while there are many benefits, we do need to unplug. We need to find hobbies and interests that we really enjoy doing outside of our workspace and offline.
Health is multifaceted – physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and more. Reflecting on the past few years, how has this show up for you? What would you tell younger Simone if you had the chance?
Simone: Mental health has definitely been more prominent in my life the past couple of years, more so than ever before. But as I think about it now, I neglected my mental health for so long as so much time and focus was on my physical self with my gymnastics career! Today, I would tell myself to bring more balance, to prioritize both mental and physical health, and take care of my whole self! And, I might tell myself not to be so stubborn.
Thank you, Simone, for authentic insights! We’re excited to hear you speak on mental health in Austin at the Thrive Summit 2022.