HBO's 'The Weight of Gold' Highlights Mental Health Struggles of Olympic Athletes

Mahevash Shaikh
Female runner competing in a race, arms pumping, while wearing a blue and white jersey
Female runner competing in a race, arms pumping, while wearing a blue and white jersey

What happened: HBO’s latest documentary, “The Weight of Gold” zeroes in on the mental state of various U.S. Olympians before and after participating in their respective events. From Michael Phelps to Sasha Cohen, star performers talk about their mental health struggles, including depression and suicidal thoughts. Released on Wednesday, the documentary’s goal is to humanize athletes and get the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to provide much-needed mental health resources.

It breaks my heart because there’s so many people who care so much about our physical well-being, but I never saw caring about our mental well-being. We’re products until we’ve stopped competing, and until we are stopped being treated like we’re products, we’re not going to change the equation. — Michael Phelps

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The Frontlines: Despite increased mental health awareness, people who are viewed as “high-functioning” face doubt and dismissal when they speak up about mental health issues. Olympians, for example, are idolized for pushing the boundaries of what the human body is capable of without concern for their mental health. In the words of hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones, “Athletes just don’t talk about our weaknesses. We’re tough.”

This attitude and lack of support from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee negatively impacts athletes, causing depression and leading to suicidal thoughts in some instances. What’s more, with this year’s Olympics being canceled due to COVID-19, athletes are struggling more now than ever. Uncertainty owing to the pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of sportspersons set to participate in the now-cancelled 2020 Olympics

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A Mighty Voice: Our contributor, Bailey Griffin, shared why mental health issues should never be ignored even among high achievers. “Being able to function well does not necessarily negate the severity of your mental illness, nor does the severity of your mental illness prohibit your ability to be ‘high-functioning.’” You can submit your first person story, too.

Related:Why You Might Be an ‘Orchid’ If You Have a Mental Illness

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Other things to know: To learn more about mental illness and sports, take a lot at these Mighty articles:

Where to watch: “The Weight of Gold” is available for streaming now on HBO. You can watch the documentary’s trailer below.

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