Simone Biles, Sexual Abuse, and Mental Health

Simone Biles. Agência Brasil Fotografias, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Content warnings: Sexual abuse, suicide

One of the major stories of the recently concluded Summer Olympics was how decorated American gymnast Simone Biles was ultimately not involved in several of the events that she qualified for as a result of her struggles with mental health. Reaction to this seemed a bit split: many praised her for prioritizing her mental health, while some critics thought of her as a quitter.

Just to clarify, I fall into the former category, not the latter. I think Simone Biles did the right thing in prioritizing her mental health, even if it meant missing some major events this Olympics. To do otherwise would’ve been a danger to her mental and her physical health, which is more important than any Olympic medal.

Yet, at the same time, it seems like there’s often been something missing from the conversations about Simone Biles and her mental health. That “something” is how sexual abuse is statistically shown to have a major negative impact on one’s mental health. Biles is a very famous example of this fact, and as such is someone whose story should highlight that fact.

As many know by now, Biles was one of many women from the United States Gymnastics Team abused by former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar.[1] And when I say many women, I mean many—she was among the 156 women who, in some form, confronted Nassar in court about his abuse.[2] However, she is the last woman knowingly abused by Nassar who is still on the United States Gymnastics Team. And, you can tell that Biles is still working through the abuse she experienced just by listening to her—after struggling on one of the nights of Olympic trials, she said that she was more emotional this year than in 2016 “because of everything I’ve been through.”[3] While yes, there have been other factors that have impacted her mental health, such as a sudden family death during the Olympics,[4] it seems impossible to deny that the mental health struggles related to the abuse she experienced have also affected her.

Yet, it’s not just Biles who is affected mentally as a result of abuse. It’s many other people, too. About 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress. 33% of women who are raped contemplate taking their lives. 13% of women who are raped actually attempt to take their lives.[5] Numbers like these show that Biles’ mental health struggles in the wake of what Larry Nassar did to her do not exist in a bubble; instead, she is a very public example of how such struggles in the light of abuse manifest themselves.

As such, while the story of Simone Biles should be a call to all of us as individuals and our society as a whole to have a greater focus on mental health, her story should arguably, even more importantly, be a call to have a greater focus on the mental health of sexual abuse survivors than what we currently do. While Biles is fortunate to be able to have a therapist,[6] not everyone is so fortunate for one reason or another, whether it be financial costs of going to therapy or still struggling through their own stigmas surrounding it. Our society needs to do a better job of addressing those barriers, because the well-being and lives of those sexually abused count on it.

If you’re in the United States, experienced sexual abuse and need help, know that you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone line, which is (800) 656-4673. If you don’t live in the United States, please check to see if there’s a helpline for sexual abuse survivors in your country.

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) also has an online hotline as well as an app that could be of use to people who need help but are afraid to speak out loud for fear that their abuser will hear them.

The National Suicide Prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255. As for readers outside the United States, you can find an extensive list of international suicide hotlines here.


[2] Ibid.





On the Acceptance of LGBTQ+ People in Families

In my Christian denomination, which is Catholicism, there is significant emphasis on protecting all human life, from conception to a natural death. However, some of us only talk about abortion, while in the process ignoring a variety of other pro-life issues.

With LGBT Pride Month having drawn to a close, I want to put a spotlight on a pro-life issue that rarely gets discussed among many pro-lifers: the treatment of LGBTQ+ people. How is this a pro-life issue? I’ll tell you.

The statistics on LGBTQ+ people and suicide are absolutely staggering. According to The Trevor Project, LGB youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide, and five times as likely to actually attempt suicide, as heterosexual youth. 40% of transgender adults also attempt suicide.

It is no coincidence that suicide attempts and rates are so high among LGBTQ+ people, because this population experiences high levels of rejection. This rejection makes a major difference in suicide rates—”LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.”[1] The same goes for transgender individuals: rejection from family is one reason why somewhere between 32% and 50% of transgender individuals in various countries attempt suicide.[2]

On the other hand, people within the LGBTQ+ community who experience little or no rejection from their families often have much better outcomes. According to the National Institute of Health, “Social support from family is found to be a general protective factor which is associated with reduced risk for lifetime suicide attempts among transgender persons.”[3] Many other organizations, including The Trevor Project (which I cited earlier), note that low or no family rejection significantly reduces suicide risk for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.[4]

I could cite even more statistics and quotes, but my point is that the treatment of LGBTQ+ people could save (or take away) many lives.

While being accepting and even affirming of someone who’s not “straight male” or “straight female” may go against some people’s personal or religious beliefs, such affirmation is extremely important.

I understand that there is a conflict-of-values here with LGBTQ+ issues for many individuals: supporting “right to life, from conception to natural death,” on one hand, and the moral difficulty of someone identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or some other identity, on the other hand. This conflict may make some of us feel uncomfortable. However, I challenge us to break through this discomfort and uphold the dignity of all individuals, including people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Having just one accepting adult in the life of an LGBTQ+ youth can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by as much as 40 percent.[5] If you know an LGBTQ+ child, I beg that you be that accepting adult in the child’s life. This acceptance may literally be life-saving. 

[3] Ibid.


Chester Bennington’s Death Needs to Be a Call to Help, Not Demonize

While I didn’t know Chester Bennington’s music all that well, it was still extremely saddening to hear that he committed suicide. He left behind family, including his six kids. He left behind fame, for all the music he made. And while I don’t know his financial situation, maybe he left behind some fortune as well. Just thinking about all that he left behind makes me really upset.

In response to his suicide, many of us have called him selfish. Some of us, like me at times in the past, thought that people like Bennington would automatically go to hell because, through killing himself, he automatically violated the commandment which says that “thou shall not kill.” And others of us may just shake our heads and ask this: “What would lead him to do such a horrible act against himself?”

The problem with all of these types of responses is that they show a lack of sensitivity to just how difficult depression is. These responses do not consider the fact that, in the minds of some with suicidal depression, this earth would be better without them and that the least selfish thing to do is to take one’s own life. These responses do not consider the fact that for some people with suicidal depression, taking one’s own life is a way to ease oneself of pain on this earth. People with deep, even suicidal, levels of depression grapple with these sorts of emotions.

These emotions, while crazy to people who don’t struggle with depression, is a reality for some people with deep levels of depression.

Our society needs to stop demonizing the fact that this deep, even suicidal, level of depression is the reality for some people. Demonization will take us nowhere.

Instead, the existence of suicidal thoughts and actions should instead be a call to help. Namely, a call to help others if you have a family member or friend going through suicidal thoughts, and a call to help yourself if you are going through suicidal thoughts yourself.

That call to help might differ from person to person, from situation to situation. Sometimes, a person needs to be reminded that he or she is loved and valued. Sometimes, you or a loved one needs a therapist. And sometimes, someone needs to just call the National Suicide Hotline (provided below).

By answering that call to help, you may save the life of a family member, a friend, or yourself.

Life can be difficult sometimes. It really can. But we are all in this life together, and I hope we can lift each other up enough to prevent future Chester Bennington-like situations.

National Suicide Hotline for the United States: 1-800-273-8255

Link to a list of international suicide hotlines through

Author’s Note: I wrote this blog piece in the last few days as a response to Bennington’s death. As a result, while I always edit my posts, this particular post might have grammar mistakes since I wrote this at the last minute. I apologize in advance for those mistakes.