How the Tokyo Olympics Redefined Mental Health Conversations for Brands and Media Outlets
By: Ali Scheinfeld, Account Executive
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan were revolutionary in many ways. The first Olympic ceremony after the onset of the pandemic, the Games notably inspired a series of conversations around mental health that many argue changed the future of sports and the entire wellness industry.
Mental health and COVID-19 have been discussed hand-in-hand since the beginning of the lockdown, and Olympic athletes face the same stress the rest of the population has faced with the added burden of the expectations of an entire nation resting on their individual success as they prepare for years for the competition. Throughout this process, they often sacrifice their emotional and physical needs with little to no support.
The mental implications for Olympic athletes is not a new concept. Many well-known figures such as Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka and Noah Lyles have gone public with their personal struggles in the past. This year, the theme of mental and physical safety was brought to the forefront of the Olympics when American gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of her event to protect her mental and physical health.
Biles’ decision generated significant attention from a wide range of media outlets and social media and opened the door to discuss and raise awareness for the importance of prioritizing personal wellbeing, both for athletes and the general population.
An analysis from The Pew Research Center revealed that during the Tokyo Olympic Games, Simone Biles made up 31% of all mentions of U.S. Olympians on Twitter. The most distinctive terms used in the tweets included “courage,” “brave,” “love,” “support,” “mental health” and “abuse.” The data also showed that these terms were “up to 52 times more prevalent in tweets mentioning Biles than in those mentioning other athletes.”
“I feel like society is shifting in a way, and I would actually give credit to athletes—and celebrities, too—anybody who has a platform,” said Jessica Bartley, director of mental health services for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “This is going to be helping any 8-year-old gymnast who might be struggling, any up-and-coming track and field athlete to be able to say: ‘Something doesn’t feel right. They got help. They went to somebody. Is that okay?’”
A Forbes article took this conversation a step further by outlining how corporate responsibilities may shift as a result of the 2020 Olympics. The article said that marketers should consider three important messages in their communication strategies going forward: “demonstrate how mental health is health,” “bring mental health conversations authentically to the forefront” and “remember that we’re all people, too.”
Because Biles is a public figure with so much riding on her and chose to prioritize her wellbeing over one of the biggest moments in her career, it gave everyone else permission to do the same in their own lives. This narrative creates a powerful opportunity for brands to take a leadership role in destigmatizing mental wellness and encouraging their employees and consumers to seek the support they need.
The Forbes Agency Council recommends that brands partner with products and services that support mental wellness and find a way to incorporate mental health into their identity. It also recommends conducting market research to identify the challenges and needs of their customer bases in order to adequately cater to them.
The 2020 Olympics further opened the door into discussing mental health awareness, and hopefully brands and media outlets can continue this conversation through their marketing, actions and decision-making.