Simone Biles’ Decision To Put Mental Health First Is Teaching Moment For Utah Teens, Therapists Say

Jul 29, 2021, 10:04 AM | Updated: 10:07 am
Simone Biles of Team United States looks on during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo ...
Simone Biles of Team United States looks on during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — After withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team final and individual all-around final at the Tokyo Olympics because of mental health concerns, Simone Biles has received both public praise and harsh criticism.

It’s a decision no athlete at the height of her sport would want to have to make.

But what does her decision mean for the thousands of Utah teenagers with mental health challenges?

A local expert said it’s an opportunity to change the way we think about mental health.

“We’re talking about a serious issue that affects the brain chemistry that no one is choosing to have,” said Jess Holzbauer, a licensed clinical social worker with Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Downplaying a mental health crisis is a mistake, she said. “You can see a broken bone,” she said. “You can’t see a brain not working.”

Jess Holzbauer, a licensed clinical social worker with Huntsman Mental Health Institute. (KSL TV)

Holzbauer treats teenagers at Huntsman’s adolescent day treatment program and said the stigma of mental health can lead to guilt and shame, and resistance to seeking treatment. It can be even tougher in minority communities.

“We put a lot of demands on young people, to engage in athletic pursuits, to do well in school, to be good members of the community, and I think it’s a balance,” Holzbauer said.

It’s a message therapists hope Utah teenagers will hear loud and clear: Mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s important to take a step back and get help when you need to. “Which is very hard to do, and I think it takes a village,” Holzbauer said. “I think it takes family members. I think it takes role models at school to be able to give permission to do that.”

Experts encouraged parents to use Biles’ decision as a teaching moment. “There is a point where when our mental health needs are so great we need to stop, pause, evaluate and take care of ourselves,” Holzbauer said.

Sending a message to teenagers on the world stage that there’s no shame in seeking help.

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Simone Biles’ Decision To Put Mental Health First Is Teaching Moment For Utah Teens, Therapists Say