Aug 4, 2021 - Health

Simone Biles' exit brings global attention to mental health

7-day interaction totals for stories related to mental health in 2021
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

Simone Biles' withdrawal from Olympics gymnastics events generated significant public interest in mental health, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

Why it matters: The Tokyo Games offered the ultimate platform for the topic to get global attention, with much of the world watching the same story.

Biles sparked a bigger conversation about mental health than either Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's interview with Oprah or Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open — both of which generated significant international interest.

By the numbers: In the week following Biles' withdrawal from the team event, stories about the gymnast and mental health generated more than 2 million social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) — 25% higher than Meghan and Harry in the days following their interview.

  • Google searches about mental health spiked that day, hitting their highest level in more than two months.

The big picture: The intensity of coverage around mental health has picked up with major events over the course of the year.

  • There were more than 9,000 stories on Biles and mental health over the last week — nearly twice the coverage of Osaka two months earlier, and nearly four times more than the mental health angle with the Royals.

Between the lines: Biles, Osaka and Markle all cited the burden of expectation as stars from whom much is demanded.

  • Biles' distress was compounded by a case of the "twisties", which gymnasts recognize as the loss of the ability to find themselves while in the air and react as they are trained.
  • The phenomenon not only means that they can't perform well, but that they put themselves in danger if they perform at all.
  • Each of the incidents involved Black women who faced considerable public blowback following their moments of candor.
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