Simone Biles Champions Mental Health

Photo: Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post

Don’t you love it when vitriol backfires?

As if America needed another reason to admire Simone Biles, this week she won the hearts of those of us who work in behavioral health.

When hackers looking for evidence of doping accessed the Olympic gymnast’s medical records and found the banned substance “methylphenidate,” they thought they had won the day.

Not so fast. While the drug is banned by the World Anti-Doping Association, Biles had received an exemption because she uses it to treat ADHD. Context is everything.

Not the take-down the hackers had expected — but maybe they at least embarrassed her, right? Wrong again.

Biles took this cyber attack as an opportunity to unapologetically discuss her ADHD.

Why is this important? Because we know that many individuals who have a mental health need are reluctant to disclose it. They worry about how others will view them. Will employers still see them as competent and capable? Will friends or loved ones treat them differently, or even be afraid of them?

And in minority communities particularly, cultural factors make it hard to talk about behavioral health.

In public relations, we know the power of having a high-profile spokesperson carry a message. We know it’s even more powerful if the message is personal to that individual.

Hearing public figures like Biles discuss her experiences with behavioral health will likely open the door for many more young women, African Americans, athletes and others who identify with her — or just really admire her —to discuss their own needs and get help, without fear of shame or exclusion.

We observe this through our work all the time. Seeing behavioral health storylines play out in movies and on TV shows helps audiences relate to these experiences. Discussing mental health with all manner of family leaders and community members helps us understand disorders and our role in recovery.

Through these honest conversations, bias and discrimination really can be reduced.

Thanks Simone. You nailed this landing.