On World Mental Health Day, USA Gymnastics announced its new Athlete Health and Wellness program that provides mental health coverage for National Team athletes and coaches.
Funded in part by USAG apparel sponsor GK Elite, the new project will allow national team members of all disciplines to make up to eight visits per year to mental health providers, while eligible coaches will have up to four visits per year covered.
“Athlete health and wellness is at the core of our value system, and the importance of mental health has been paramount not just for athletes but for everyone in recent years,” USA Gymnastics president Li Li Leung said in a statement.
“Being able to fund services that athletes and their coaches can receive in their hometowns, by their preferred providers, is essential for wellbeing and something we have always wanted to do.”
USA Cycling launched the Team USA Well-Being Program in 2020, which offers confidential counselling and mental health services to its USA Cycling Team athletes. Similarly, USA Weightlifting and USA Fencing already supply wellness programs to their National Team athletes.
With the magnitude of mental health stories shared by world-renowned swimmers, this new Athlete Health and Wellness program will encourage athletes to seek professional help.
Phelps has openly discussed his struggles with anxiety and depression since 2015, and has an “Open Up” page on the Michael Phelps Foundation website which offers resources and tips to address and cope with mental health issues.
Since Phelps checked himself into an in-patient treatment center in 2014, he has acknowledged that his mental health journey is ongoing. Therefore, he emphasizes the importance of attending therapy sessions and taking self-care measures to improve mental health.
“My depression and my anxiety is never going to just disappear. I’m never going to be able to snap my fingers and say, ‘Go away. Leave me alone.’ It makes me. It is a part of me. It’s always going to be a part of me,” Phelps told Healthline.
South African swimmer Chad Le Clos recently shared how the pressure of performance wreaked havoc on his mental health. From winning gold and beating Phelps at the 2012 London Olympics to losing and not racing to a podium finish at the 2016 Games, Le Clos determined his self-worth through his swimming success. He identified the source of his mental health struggles when he sought out therapy in the fall of 2021. With a better frame of mind, le Clos has set his sights on the Paris 2024 Games.
Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte spoke candidly about her mental health in a SwimSwam Podcast in August, following her 2022 world title in the 50 breast. Meilutyte realized she needed professional help a few months before the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I reached the point where I really felt like I can’t carry on without talking about it,” said Meilutyte.
Following her Olympic gold medal in the 100 breast at the young age of 15 at London 2012, Meilutyte felt pressure from her country’s expectations to defend her title at the 2016 Rio Games. She also suffered from an eating disorder and ultimately took a six-month break after the Rio Games.
According to a International Olympic Committee consensus statement released in 2019, up to 35 percent of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis.