7 Athletes advocating for mental health awareness

In recent years, a growing number of athletes have courageously stepped into the spotlight to discuss an often-overlooked aspect of their lives: mental health. By sharing their struggles and embracing vulnerability, these athletes challenge the outdated notion that they are just titans of sport rather than multifaceted human beings who deal with emotions just like us. Athletes are no exception to struggle; seven stars have shown that true strength comes from embracing both your physical and mental well-being. 

Trigger warning: This blog discusses sensitive topics like mental health, eating disorders, sexual assault, and suicide. Please take care of yourself, and if you aren’t in a place to read about these topics right now, we understand. 🫶

If you or someone you know is struggling, contact the National Mental Health Hotline by calling or texting 9-8-8 or visiting https://988lifeline.org/ to live chat.

Naomi Girma

Sport: Soccer

Team: San Diego Wave / US National Team

After the death of her best friend and Stanford teammate, Katie Meyer, Naomi Girma has been outspoken about mental health. Girma wrote a piece for the Players’ Tribune; This Is For Katie, where she detailed her bond with Katie and how she, Sophia Smith, and Sofia Huerta had teamed up with Common Goal to ensure that FOX Sports dedicated at least 1% coverage to the importance of mental health during the World Cup.

Girma also spearheaded a mental health summit for fellow NWSL players called the Create the Space Retreat. This three-day retreat allowed athletes to collaborate and ideate ways to open the floor for vulnerable conversations surrounding mental health.

Aly Raisman

Sport: Gymnastics

Team: Retired (2020)

After retiring from professional gymnastics in 2020, Aly Raisman has gone on to write a memoir and a children’s book, do broadcasting work, and release a line of leotards. But her life hasn’t been void of struggles. Raisman is one of several gymnasts who bravely made victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing of former physician Larry Nassar’s trial and has been open about her mental health journey. 

Raisman recently spoke candidly about her experience on the podcast “I’m Fine, You?” with host Chrissy Ford. You can listen to her episode here.

Simone Manuel

Sport: Swimming

Team: USA

Simone Manuel broke records and glass ceilings when she brought a gold medal home from the 2016 Olympics. A few years later, as Manuel was prepping for the 2020 Olympics, she began to feel fatigue, soreness, and saw her swim times declining — even though she was training harder than ever before.

At the Olympic trials, Manuel made the Tokyo squad in the 50m freestyle but didn't qualify in the 100m freestyle — the event she had previously won the Olympic gold medal in. Despite these hardships, Manuel still made the team and competed in the Tokyo Olympics, helping the U.S. to a bronze medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Manuel then shared her diagnosis publicly in a press conference, explaining that she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome — and subsequently dealt with depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

In 2022, Manuel returned to the pool after a five-month break with zero exercise beyond light stretching and yoga. She told Sports Illustrated, “As athletes, we sometimes think that taking rest is a sign of weakness, but with the grueling and daunting schedules that we have, it’s really important to listen to your body and also your mind when you need to take some time for yourself.” In her first meet back in the pool, Manuel won the 200m freestyle race. 

Check out TOGETHXR’s Head Above Water to learn more about Manuel’s journey back to the pool.

Naomi Osaka

Sport: Tennis

Team: Japan

Naomi Osaka has been vocal about her mental health struggles since the 2021 French Open, where she decided that she would no longer do press conferences due to anxiety. She was fined $15,000 for skipping the press conference and was threatened with even harsher penalties if she continued, so she dropped out of the tournament. 

Osaka then took an extended break from tennis while battling depression and anxiety. In 2023, Osaka spoke at a mental health forum and expressed that taking time away from the game only strengthened her love for tennis. 

Now that she is back on the court (and balancing motherhood alongside her tennis career), Osaka is still advocating for mental health awareness. Osaka currently serves as the Chief Community Health Advocate for Modern Health and helps spearhead community initiatives like the Play Academy.

Victoria Pickett

Sport: Soccer

Team: North Carolina Courage/Canada WNT

Victoria Pickett started playing soccer after idolizing her older brothers on the pitch. As she and her siblings aged, her brother Dylan began struggling with his mental health and was eventually diagnosed with Schizophrenia. The Pickett family was shocked by the diagnosis and was devastated to see Dylan struggling. After Dylan's passing, Pickett changed her jersey number to 94 (Dylan's birth year) in his honor.  While it was the toughest thing she's ever gone through, she's determined to share his story and advocate for others who may be struggling with their mental health.

Watch this ION special to learn more about how she carries her brother’s memory with her.

Gracie Gold

Sport: Figure Skating

Team: USA

From the outside, Gracie Gold had it all after winning the U.S. Championship titles in 2014 and 2016. But under the surface, Gold was struggling with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder throughout the 2016-17 season, stemming from both the pressure of skating and being sexually assaulted. In 2017, Gold announced that she’d take a break from competitive skating, citing her eating disorder and depression. 

Gold recently released a memoir, Outofshapeworthlessloser, detailing her journey through the elite figure skating world. Since her break in 2017, Gold has returned to skating and now also coaches other skaters, with adult skaters being her favorite to teach.

At the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gold placed eighth overall — her best finish since taking time away from the sport to seek treatment.

Raven Saunders

Sport: Shot Put

Team: USA

Raven “Hulk” Saunders found their passion in the weight room as a high school student, working hard to gain strength and eventually surpassing most of their peers’ lifting capabilities. When someone suggested they try shot put, Saunders uncovered their hidden talent. 

As a sophomore in college, Saunders made the 2016 Olympic team and headed to Rio. They placed fifth in the shot put and returned home to a new level of status and notoriety. Once the bright lights of the season wore off, Saunders realized they could no longer push away their unresolved childhood trauma and mental health struggles

After a hospitalization and therapy, Saunders was able to move into a much healthier mental space.

In 2020, Saunders brought home a silver medal from the Tokyo Olympics, and they look forward to competing at the upcoming trials in hopes of making the Paris 2024 Olympic roster.