Simone Biles & The Olympics: The Mental Health Issue Not Being Discussed

Erin Schaefer, PCC-S, IMFT-S

When I first heard about Simone Biles removing herself from the gymnastic competition due to a “medical issue”, I was concerned about whether she had hurt her leg or sprained something, a devastating injury for an Olympic athlete. Once word came out that, in fact, she had removed herself due to mental health issues, I said, “oh of course, that makes perfect sense!”  However, the reaction on social media and the internet was swift and ran the gamut from, “She is so strong and so brave” to “How could she let down her teammates and the country?  She should have just pushed through it!”

To be clear, I am not a gymnast, no matter how much my younger self tried to make that happen in my front yard in the summer. However, I am a licensed therapist and counselor, so I understand the field of mental health. What I know about USA Gymnastics is more related to my field of knowledge:  prior to the Olympics, I had read a lot about the horrible sexual abuse scandal, revealed just a few of years ago. Larry Nassar, former Team USA Gymnastics doctor, had been convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing hundreds of female gymnasts over his many years as the team doctor.  The scandal was exposed in 2016; he was convicted in 2017.  This is the first Olympics since all the information has come forth.

When I heard about Simone removing herself for mental health issues, I immediately thought of trauma. Trauma embeds itself in our brains, our bodies, and our minds.  It infects all our senses and imprints on us when an event occurs. Trauma can also linger, hovering underneath, waiting to surface without warning. When a person experiences trauma, that person can be triggered by memories of that trauma by almost anything:  a noise, a smell, a similar scene, or even a repetition of a similar experience. Sometimes, trauma reappears in the form of a flashback of the original event. In some cases, the trauma can be triggered and manifest itself in ways that do not even seem to be connected to the original traumatic event. For instance, someone who experienced trauma as a very young child might not have any memory of the actual abuse, but when returning to the location where previous abuse had occurred, the person might experience a sleep disturbance and not even know why. This physical manifestation of the trauma is part of the body’s “memory” of the event and the cues of what happened there. However, the body “knows” and the brain “remembers” even when the conscious mind does not.

To me, Simone’s case could easily be connected to the trauma she has experienced. Being back in a high-pressure competitive situation, the first Olympics since the scandal was brought to light, can be very “triggering”. Even though it might not be conscious for her, it is quite possible her body and mind are reacting to that stimulus and trying to make sense of it. Obviously, I am not her therapist, her counselor, or her doctor; I am merely an outsider, looking in. For me, the most important thing is that she is listening to her body AND her mind, as both are telling her, “Something is not right here.” Slowing down to listen, adjusting as she goes, and giving herself space and time is absolutely essential for her as an elite athlete – and a great lesson for the rest of us. Let her example be a reminder to us all to be patient with ourselves and to look out for each other. 


The Author: Erin Schaefer, PCC-S, IMFT-S, is the Executive Vice President/Executive Director at Catalyst Life Services.  She received a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron.  Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years.  She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education.  She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013, and is currently the Treasurer. She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow.  Erin is a catalyst for Empathy.

Staying Mentally Healthy During the Holidays

“Have yourself a Merry little Christmas, let your heart be light….”

A beloved holiday classic, this song can conjure up all kinds of positive memories of Christmases past.  Indeed, the holiday season is often full of warm memories, family gatherings, work parties, and general positive cheer.

However, the holidays are not festive and cheery for all.  For some, they represent painful memories or reminders of loved ones no longer here.  For still others, the holidays represent added stress of more to do, more money to spend when there is no “extra” money, and more activities added to an already stressful schedule.

So how can one maintain good mental health during this “most wonderful time of the year”?  Here are some tips for managing stress and dealing with depressive/anxiety symptoms during this time:

  1. Remember the word “No.” Only you know when it is too much for you.  Taking care of yourself means setting limits and sticking to them.  When you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to step back and take a break.
  2. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Memories can be painful, and simple things can trigger memories when you least expect it.  A song, a smell, a phrase, or a sound can all be significant reminders.  When this happens, be gentle with yourself, embrace the significance of the moment, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions it brings.
  3. Maintain a routine. One of the things the holidays can bring is chaos and craziness.  Maintaining as much of the normal routine as possible can help minimize the impact of the disruptions.  Routine stabilizes mind, body, and spirit as it grounds a person in what is known in the midst of the unknown.
  4. Limit alcohol use. When stressed, it is tempting to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.  However, alcohol use can lead to alcohol abuse and subsequent poor decision-making.  In addition, alcohol is a depressant and often leads to increased feelings of depression and sadness after significant use.  Limiting use to one or two drinks helps a person to maintain control and avoid complications normally associated with heavy use.
  5. Seek comfort from those who support you. There are those within our daily lives who provide emotional support and assistance.  Reach out to those you know you can count on, and let them know when you feel overwhelmed.  Asking for help allows others to know specifically what they can do to support you.
  6. Develop a budget. Knowing how much you have to spend for gifts for family, friends, and coworkers allows you to manage expenses.  This can also keep you from getting overwhelmed with surprise bills come January. If money is tight, get creative; make your own gifts or agree to spend time together instead of buying gifts. You make your own rules.
  7. Find time for rest and relaxation. Even in the midst of hustle and bustle, it is important to take time to catch your breath.  When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a break by doing things you enjoy, such as watching a movie, exercising, hanging out with friends, or reading.  Taking some downtime helps you recharge and rejuvenate yourself before the next set of activities.

If you find yourself having serious difficulties during or continuing to struggle beyond the holidays, there is help available.  Catalyst Life Services has a wide array of services available to address mental health, drug & alcohol, vocational, and many other issues.

Call Helpline at 419-522-HELP (419-522-4357) for information.  Contact us; we can help!

Erin Schaefer, IMFT-S, LPCC-S is the Executive Director at Catalyst Life Services.  She received a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron.  Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years.  She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education.  She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013.  She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow

Signs of Suicide Prevention Program

The adolescent years can be some of the most challenging years in an individual’s life. It is a time of hormonal changes, figuring out identity, making future plans and becoming independent. Mental health is always important to maintain; however, at a time with so many drastic changes, the need for good mental health becomes more obvious. With suicide being the second-leading cause of death for high school students, suicide and mental health awareness is essential.

Catalyst Life Services is committed to providing excellent mental health support and to raise awareness to the importance of good mental health. One of the ways we create this awareness is through the S.O.S. Program. This program is geared toward high school students and equips them with the knowledge they need to know about suicide including the warning signs and what to do if a friend is exhibiting those signs. Students are provided with resources and shown the importance of taking signs of suicide seriously and how to get help from a trusted adult.

 Kristi Crabb, Child & Adolescent Therapist, is one of the instrumental individuals who makes the S.O.S Program possible. In the past 3 years, she has helped to bring this program to local schools such as Lexington and Clear Fork High Schools. This program has helped countless freshmen students and has a unique structure.

“There is a video that’s shown which is about 25 minutes, then we review with the student, and have a discussion.” Kristi shares. “We have also begun having the students write down any questions they may have and turn them in without their name on them. We feel this allows students to ask their questions more openly without the fear of being judged. We have found this to be very productive.”

If you walk through the halls of Lexington or Clear Fork, you may notice some students wearing purple and green bracelets with the acronym: “B.I.O.N.I.C”. These are the students who have gone through the S.O.S program and desire to share their knowledge with anyone who needs help. This acronym stands for, ‘Believe it or Not I Care’. On the other side of the bracelet is the Catalyst 24/7 HelpLine that can help support anyone is crisis.

This program combats the stigma that is commonly attached to: mental health, self-harm and suicide. Many students feel they are alone and do not share their struggles because of the fear of judgment and being labeled a certain way. However, Kristi Crabb shares that she has seen first-hand how this curriculum has helped to open doors, break down stigma and equip these students on what to do if they themselves or a friend is struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Kristi hopes to continue the program this fall. However, with ongoing changes in protocols and classes at local high schools due to COVID-19, further planning is needed to map out how this program can continue. Stay tuned to see how we will continue to raise awareness for suicide prevention and good mental health.

“Have yourself a Merry little Christmas, let your heart be light….”

A beloved holiday classic, this song can conjure up all kinds of positive memories of Christmases past.  Indeed, the holiday season is often full of warm memories, family gatherings, work parties, and general positive cheer.

However, the holidays are not festive and cheery for all.  For some, they represent painful memories or reminders of loved ones no longer here.  For still others, the holidays represent added stress of more to do, more money to spend when there is no “extra” money, and more activities added to an already stressful schedule.

So how can one maintain good mental health during this “most wonderful time of the year”?  Here are some tips for managing stress and dealing with depressive/anxiety symptoms during this time:

  1. Remember the word “No.” Only you know when it is too much for you.  Taking care of yourself means setting limits and sticking to them.  When you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to step back and take a break.
  2. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Memories can be painful, and simple things can trigger memories when you least expect it.  A song, a smell, a phrase, or a sound can all be significant reminders.  When this happens, be gentle with yourself, embrace the significance of the moment, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions it brings.
  3. Maintain a routine. One of the things the holidays can bring is chaos and craziness.  Maintaining as much of the normal routine as possible can help minimize the impact of the disruptions.  Routine stabilizes mind, body, and spirit as it grounds a person in what is known in the midst of the unknown.
  4. Limit alcohol use. When stressed, it is tempting to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.  However, alcohol use can lead to alcohol abuse and subsequent poor decision-making.  In addition, alcohol is a depressant and often leads to increased feelings of depression and sadness after significant use.  Limiting use to one or two drinks helps a person to maintain control and avoid complications normally associated with heavy use.
  5. Seek comfort from those who support you. There are those within our daily lives who provide emotional support and assistance.  Reach out to those you know you can count on, and let them know when you feel overwhelmed.  Asking for help allows others to know specifically what they can do to support you.
  6. Develop a budget. Knowing how much you have to spend for gifts for family, friends, and coworkers allows you to manage expenses.  This can also keep you from getting overwhelmed with surprise bills come January. If money is tight, get creative; make your own gifts or agree to spend time together instead of buying gifts. You make your own rules.
  7. Find time for rest and relaxation. Even in the midst of hustle and bustle, it is important to take time to catch your breath.  When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a break by doing things you enjoy, such as watching a movie, exercising, hanging out with friends, or reading.  Taking some downtime helps you recharge and rejuvenate yourself before the next set of activities.

If you find yourself having serious difficulties during or continuing to struggle beyond the holidays, there is help available.  Catalyst Life Services has a wide array of services available to address mental health, drug & alcohol, vocational, and many other issues.

Call Helpline at 419-522-HELP (419-522-4357) for information.  Contact us; we can help!

Erin Schaefer, IMFT-S, LPCC-S is the Director of Operations at Catalyst Life Services.  She received a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron.  Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years.  She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education.  She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013.  She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow