Simone Biles sparks global conversation about mental health

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Olympic gymnast Simone Biles has triggered a global conversation about mental health after dropping out of the Olympic games.

As public figures like Biles continue to push conversations about mental health forward, new discussions are being had about the stigma that comes with a diagnosis.

“It’s sort of the fear of the unknown and for the longest time, we really did not talk about mental health conditions. If you think about various media, movies, television shows, not many of them have ever cast mental health conditions in a positive light,” said Ben Harrington, CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka are the most recent examples of public figures who have expressed their mental health needs publicly. They’ve been met with support and scrutiny.

“Simone’s approach is she’s realizing she’s got to take time for herself and that is an absolutely essential part of managing one’s mental health,” Harrington said.

Talking about an illness you can’t see, or physically touch can be difficult. Reico Hopewell knows this well. His mental health issues started as a child.

“I would be very angry and I would isolate too as well and isolate for a really long time. And trying to talk to my mother about it was very difficult because I didn’t really know what to say,” Hopewell said. “I had a suicide attempt in college. And there was a lot going on internally and externally so I had a suicide attempt, dropped out of school. And after I dropped out of college, my life spiraled out of control. I had a 15 year drug addiction that led me to some really dark places.”

It’s especially tough to talk about and find resources for mental health help in minority communities.

“In our Black community, we don’t talk about issues, we hold it all in, then they label us as angry but we just don’t have an outlet,” Hopewell said.

Hopewell is now 14 years clean and has been a counselor for 12 years. He’s founded the Hopewell Alcohol and Drug counseling and The Mend House, a sober living community for men.

“I think it’s an opportunity to show the world that hey it’s okay to talk about mental health issues and it’s okay to step away from things. It’s okay,” Hopewell said.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, the Mend House and Hopewell A&D counseling are local resources.

The Mental Health Association of East Tennessee also offers free mental health screenings.

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