One of the biggest headlines from the Tokyo Olympics was the withdrawal from a number of Gymnastics events by American superstar Simone Biles. The highly successful athlete withdrew from competitions due to mental health problems. This was the first such occasion that such a high profile sports start would withdraw from the biggest event in sport.

It drew huge amounts of attention, a lot of praise, and a fair dose of uneducated and ignorance. For UK fenestration, given the last year or so, there is a lot to learn from Simone Biles and the highly mature decisions she took last week.

Simone Biles and mental responsibility

Last week was a shock to most sports fans. Simone Biles is one of the most successful athletes of all time. She has won endless Gold medals at World and Olympic championships. Wherever she competed she generally won. And not just win, but win incredibly well. The standard she set was incomparably high. She was strides ahead of her competition. Every tournament she turned up to she was expected to win, because it was Simone Biles.

Through her intense dedication, talent and hard work, that was the reputation she built for herself. But it also creates a very high-pressure environment for her to work in every day. The expectations around her. Her fans simply expecting her to deliver 10/10 every time, win Gold every time, is a very harsh world to live in mentally. Through media hype and previous records, it is easy to forget that Simone Biles is indeed a human being, and is not infallible to strains of daily life.

Just as her Olympics were getting going, she announced she was pulling out of a number of events to monitor her mental health. As an elite athlete and highly successful person in her own right, to have made that decision would not have been easy. But in my eyes, she made the absolute correct decision.

If she was not in the right place mentally, then who knows what the outcome might have been if she had competed. If her concentration was not there she could have caused herself a bad injury. If her mind wasn’t in the right place and she came away from the tournament feeling worse, who knows what kind of additional mental damage that could have caused her. We have to remember that elite sports stars are human and they all suffer and deal with the same mental stresses and pressure we all do in our daily lives. We cannot expect them to be different from you or me.

Not long after, England cricket star Ben Stokes also announced he was taking some time away from the game to look after his own mental health. I remember looking through social media reactions after both these announcements, and whilst there was a great deal of support for both Simone and Ben, there was also a fair dose of ignorance and abuse towards them as well. It is still very clear to me that there is more work still to be done to bring the importance of mental health to those who do not wish to be educated on it.

What Simone Biles and Ben Stokes have done is to take responsibility for their own mental health, and I applaud them for that. It’s not easy to make these sorts of decisions when you’re in the public eye so much and with the careers they have. But what they have done is to set an example for everyone. Showing that no matter who you are, what profession you’re in, you must always take the time to look after yourself if it is needed.

What fenestration can learn

I think we can draw some comparison to our own situation here in UK fenestration. Since May of 2020, the strain on our sector, on the supply chain, at the installer level and everything in between has been as relentless and intense as it ever has been.

For months we have been battling constant product shortages, which are still ongoing. Record demand from the general public which has put a huge strain on both installation companies and suppliers. There has been no let-up. No dips. No time to rest and take stock. We have been overselling and running at 120% for at least 14 months straight and that is way too long a period of time to expect people to work at such intense levels.

As a result, many of us are feeling stressed, tired, burnt out, depressed and generally unhappy. When I hear “well look at the money we’re making” it frustrates me. We know full well that no amount of money can make someone happy. With the number of public figures that we have lost to depression, we should know better than this by now.

Rather than keep trudging on, battling each day, I think we can look towards the example Simone Biles and Ben Stokes have set for the rest of us. If work has taken its toll, if you’re feeling depressed, if you know you are burned out, then take some time away from work to spend it on yourself. Even if that is a week or two at home doing some of the simple things that make you happy. Go see friends. Go see family. Cook. Go explore somewhere. Have a nice dinner out. Go to a spa. Or just put your feet up and delve into a Marvel movie marathon!

We are human beings, not robots. We cannot be expected to operate at full tilt permanently without expecting some damage to be done. Whether that is physical or mental. Our sector has boomed over the past year and a bit, which is good news naturally, but we as people are experiencing the side effects of that boom. One that we were not prepared for and one we did not expect.

So if you need some time away from work, be like Simone, take your own mental health into your own hands and do what needs to be done.

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