Dr. Leila Ellis-Nelson: Advocacy for Comprehensive Mental Healthcare in Elite Athletics

I would like to personally thank Olympian Simone Biles for honoring her mental health and well-being. You have given many of us the reminder, and permission, to honor all parts of ourselves; as we are more than what we do for others. We are more than the expectations thrust upon us from the world and its onlookers. We are worthy of dignity, respect, kindness, love, empathy, and support. We have the right to prioritize our well-being, for without it, we would diminish our capacity to experience all of the richness life has to offer. With this in mind, the pressure thrust upon elite athletes has the potential to be insurmountable, and Ms. Biles taking the time to relieve herself of that pressure is truly commendable. As spectators, we often forget the humanity of our heroes, and we leave little room for them to need the same tenderness we yearn for as well. It is our goal to help stars like Ms. Biles amplify moments of self-reflection, self-care, and instrospection. In doing so, we reinforce these habits within ourselves, and with those around us.

Mental health advocacy has the potential to take many forms, and we also recognize that taking time to prioritize your mental health and well-being can be difficult for many of us. We'd like to offer some ideas to help everyone from our Olympic heroes to our hometown heroes.

Let's explore some of our options:
  • Advocating for sufficient physical and mental health breaks between events, tasks, and assignments.
    • As a former gymnast, a cool thing we did in our gym was to have one of our rotations be a rest-stop where we were meant to give our minds and bodies a break.
    • Building in breaks to my daily calendar holds me accountable to taking care of myself.
  • Providing equitable and accessible resources to behavioral, mental health, and medication management services to athletes, employees, partners, and community members; keeping a working referral list on-hand is ideal.
  • Hiring a mental health professional specializing in health psychology or sports psychology to provide services to athletes within your gyms, students in your schools, and employeers in your workplaces.
  • Including mentorship as a core value for coach-athlete relationships, student-faculty, and employer-employee relationships. When we have moer intimate interpersonal relationships, it's easier to notice when someone is struggling, and provides more of an opportunity to support one another.
  • Hire a diverse staff to allow for diverse representation in personnel who will be uniquely able to call attention to the cultural differences impacting mental health care.
  • Promote mental health awareness and wellness by having one hour a week (at a minimum) to be dedicated to self-care where you indulge in an activity solely meant for relaxation and restoration.
While these are great jumping off points, we hope that it inspires you to be creative about ways to take care for yourselves, and to encourage others to do the same. In the event you're looking for a few resources, we also wanted to leave you with a couple as you consider your own mental health journey:
  • Self Explore, Self Restore by Michelle Goodloe: This journal is your invitation to create a self-loving life on your own terms and on your own schedule.
  • Liberate Meditation: Develop meditation habits aimed at helping you stress less, reduce anxiety, and sleep better.
  • Black People Go To Therapy Too: This podcast seeks to not only shine a light on the stigmas surrounding people of color and our mental well-being but seeks to engage our community in conversations about our experiences in therapy--good and bad.
  • Coffee, Hip-Hop, & Mental Health:  The beauty of our work is rooted in creating necessary opportunities for people to open up and build. Encouraging the black & brown community to speak up for themselves. Creating access to physical, emotional and mental well-being, while also working to create economical opportunities.
Dr. Leila Ellis-Nelson recently spoke at the Inaugural Brown Girls Do Gymnasticshttp://www.browngirlsdogymnastics.comIsla Invitational and Exhibition at Grambling State University, providing workshops on goal setting and mental health to the participants, and a dialogue on mental health and elite athleticism to their parents. These are the slides from her presentation:
Leila Ellis Nelson Headshot

Leila Ellis-Nelson, Psy.D. | Pronunciation Lee-Luh El-liss - Nel - son
Assistant Professional Practice Professor, Department of Psychology, Roosevelt University

CEO & Co-Founder, Changing Perspectives & Coffee Hour Chicago

Assistant Professor, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Board Member, Illinois Association of Prescribing Psychologists

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We thank you all for working actively to uplift yourselves and one another, and we stand in solidarity with Olympian Simone Biles, and the many others that have chosen to hold space for their health and well-being.

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