Letter of the week: Greater attention needed to help national athletes deal with stress

The news about the investigation of national athletes Joseph Schooling and Amanda Lim over the consumption of drugs is unfortunate (Singapore's Joseph Schooling took cannabis overseas; fellow swimmer Amanda Lim gets stern CNB warning, Aug 30).

The Ministry of Defence, Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and Sport Singapore must review thoroughly the circumstances of the cases while also being understanding of the stress athletes face.

Athletes are often hailed as exemplars of mental toughness, but they are only human, susceptible to the psychological effects of stress.

It would be reassuring to the local sports fraternity to know that Mindef, CNB and SportSG have the interests and welfare of national athletes in mind as well.

Athletes push beyond their limits in their sports to become better, but this can come at immense cost.

Look no further than American gymnast Simone Biles, who pulled out of the women's team gymnastics final in last year's Tokyo Olympics, and tennis star Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from last year's French Open, as examples.

That is why initiatives to help, support and guide athletes in relation to their mental health are necessary.

Training and competition experiences can be traumatic, and often, athletes' self-esteem or self-worth hinges on the number of medals they win.

This is heightened further by the pressure that comes from the support - both financial and in other areas - offered by the state.

When national athletes go through a crisis or psychological breakdown, they are subjected to gossip and public scrutiny with little privacy to heal.

A lot is done to safely prepare and nurture athletes for competition. But it should not stop there. More needs to be done post-event and also post-retirement.

There should be a network of people reminding the sportsmen of their worth beyond just their athletic achievements.

Singaporeans must recognise that athletes are not superhuman or robots.

They are normal people who have their own mental health issues, too. Jonathan Wong

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