Olympics mental health task force created to help athletes

Japan 2020

TAMPA (WFLA) — As Olympic hopefuls wait for news about the future of the already postponed. Olympics, mental health is taking center stage.

Many athletes are having to adapt their training schedules, postpone future plans and deal with a lot of unknowns as they wait for the Olympics in 2021.

As officials decide factors like how to prevent the virus from spreading, and if spectators will be allowed, the uncertainty is weighing on the minds of athletes.

Olympic Weightlifter Kate Nye is one of strongest women on earth, but she hasn’t always felt strong mentally.

“I was undiagnosed for so long and I was suffering for so long, not knowing what was wrong with me,” Nye said.

After feeling depressed to the point that she didn’t even want to compete, her husband convinced her to get help. Nye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with medication, she was able to get back on track.

At the World Weightlifting Championships in September, Nye took home the gold in her weight class and set three world records.

Nye was in a great position to secure her spot to Tokyo but worries what the next year holds in terms of qualification.

It is one of many uncertainties that athletes are facing as athletes look ahead to 2021.

“We’re already being physically isolated from each other, and then to struggle with a difficult emotional issue alone, that’s just a double whammy I would say,” said Dr. Karen Cogan, Senior Sports Psychologist with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The committee was formed to help athletes navigate the stresses of training and competing, and really ramped up after the Tokyo Olympics was postponed to 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Mental Health Taskforce is made up of a team of former athletes and mental health professionals working together to help athletes navigate the unknown.

The task force gives athletes 24/7 access to phone counseling, and other wellness resources so athletes navigate the trying times in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Dealing with that uncertainty can be really challenging at times so we are doing our best to make sure that when we can, we put in some protocols, and we can provide all of the information we have,” said Former Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt, who is also on the committee, and working to get her PhD in Clinical Psychology. “From the mental health perspective, that’s a big topic that we’re discussing right now, and making sure that they do feel motivated to continue training or just with their daily functions even. Because that sometimes can be really challenging when your whole future and your sports career is up in the air.”

The 2010 Olympian and figure skating National Champion experienced the uncertainty on a smaller scale. In 2011, a tsunami hit Japan and the World Championship was postponed for months.

“That experience alone was incredibly taxing, it was just in emotional roller coaster every day. So I think for the athletes right now who are experiencing this, it’s taking that magnifying that by 10 times,” said Flatt.

TOKYO, JAPAN – OCTOBER 13: A man wearing a face mask pauses next to the Olympic Rings on October 13, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Despite assurances from senior International Olympic Committee and Japanese government officials, concerns remain over whether or not the postponed Tokyo Olympics will go ahead even in 2021 as the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to cause major disruption across the globe. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Flatt uses her experience to encourage athletes to keep pushing. “They definitely need a lot of support as I think everyone does,” she said.

As for Kate Nye, she’s very vocal about her struggles on her Instagram page and hopes her story will help make sure no athlete suffers in silence.

“Maybe I can be the person to make it click in their head that maybe they should go see someone, or talk to a therapist, or a family member, just to get it off their chest. That was a really big deal for me,” Nye said.

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