Mental Toughness Is Valued Over Mental Wellness

August 9, 2021 Laura A. Barton

Arguably one of the most common forms of mental health stigma is the fact that mental toughness is valued over mental wellness. Think of all the times we're told to get over mental health struggles or toughen up to get through them. This pervasive stigma doesn't necessarily deny mental struggles; it just says we need to be tougher when it comes to the challenges brought on by them.

Mental Toughness and Welland in the Olympics

This topic of mental toughness over mental wellness has been making waves across the news, and social media after Olympic athlete Simone Biles stepped away from the gymnastic finals to prioritize her mental health. She said she wasn't in the right headspace to compete, and while there are a large number of people praising her for taking care of herself, stigma is hot at their heels.

I've sadly seen many comments admonishing her decision and saying she needs to toughen up. One commenter I saw even claimed they were scared for the future because of decisions like the one Biles made. Others made it sound like the Olympics should trump any mental issues.

Biles is quoted as saying,

"We are not just athletes, we're people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to step back."1

A blog post I wrote recently about what happened when tennis player Naomi Osaka decided not to attend a media event for mental health reasons resonates with this as well because some of the backlashes they've both gotten fall under the category of athlete first, person second.

Being Tough: A Prevalent Form of Mental Health Stigma

The narrative of being tough in the wake of adversity, I found, was more prevalent with Biles' situation. What people don't see is often, those who struggle with mental health issues push through the struggle silently or at the very least out of the spotlight. It's only when the breaking point is reached that it's more visible to those around them or, in this case, to the masses.

What people who cry for mental toughness don't realize is that we usually see that breaking point after a great deal of toughness. However, even if it's not, why is toughness valued over wellness? Why is the idea of being strong better than being healthy?

I don't really have the answer for that, but what it comes down to is this type of stigma is saying mental struggles, while real, are something that we should be able to overcome by toughing it out. It minimizes the impact of mental health challenges as well as their severity and fosters a lack of understanding of how debilitating mental health issues can be. Speaking from personal experience, when my depression and anxiety disorders are at their worst, they can impair how I function day to day, and it's difficult to make any decision, let alone sound ones. It causes me to question everything. Biles even highlighted in an interview that she was questioning and doubting herself,2 which can be dangerous for her sport.

Toughness doesn't solve mental health struggles, nor is taking time to address mental health issues a detriment to society or sports. So, if you're struggling and need time to focus on your mental wellness, do so. With public figures like Biles, Osaka, and any others who've taken this step setting the stage to normalize taking care of mental health, hopefully, those struggling see that it's okay to take a step back when needed. Mental wellness is valuable, too.


  1. Sky Sports, "Simone Biles withdraws form individual all-around event 'to focus on mental health,' says USA Gymnastics.", July 2021.
  2. Sky Sports, "Simone Biles withdraws form individual all-around event 'to focus on mental health,' says USA Gymnastics.", July 2021.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2021, August 9). Mental Toughness Is Valued Over Mental Wellness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

Saskia Ulbricht
September, 8 2021 at 12:26 pm

Wonderful article, and so important. I think it's really good that these issues are brought up and out.
I myself am struggling through life with chronic major depression and GAD. Thank goodness for my therapist and my psychiatrist. The rest of people surrounding me, including my husband (or most of all my husband) see me as being "too sensitive" " not thick skinned enough". So I struggle along as well as I can. It's very lonely,

September, 9 2021 at 10:54 pm

It's good to hear you're connected with a good therapist and psychiatrist, Saskia. Not having the support of others in your life can definitely feel lonely like you say, and I'm sorry you're in that situation. I know how difficult that can be and how words can hurt. Please know that their words come from a place of ignorance, and that it's okay to not be the kind of tough that people think we should be. Maybe it'll help your husband to read stories here on HealthyPlace to see that things like depression and GAD aren't as simple as toughness versus weakness. Sending you lots of warmth and well wishes.

Lizanne Corbit
August, 10 2021 at 5:40 pm

A fantastic, and necessary piece of writing. It's interesting to see how, in the last several years, more conversations around things like the toxicity of hustle culture and the importance of mental wellness are finally starting to get the serious attention they deserve. I'm hopeful that with more conversations like these we'll start to really see some progress in this area.

Leave a reply