What Happens After The Olympic Torch Goes Out? For Many Athletes, A Battle With Depression

August 19, 2020
Pyeongchang Olympics SkeletonPyeongchang Olympics SkeletonMaye-e Wong / AP Photo
Katie Uhlaender of United States starts her third run during the women's skeleton competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

These are challenging times, with a global pandemic, a collapsed economy, millions of people unemployed and a politically divided country.

It is inevitable that many Americans are struggling with their mental health, or worried about the emotional wellbeing of loved ones and friends.

Among those people who are struggling are some of our most public champions: Olympic athletes. That's the subject of a new documentary on HBO called “The Weight of Gold.”

The film, narrated by swimmer Michael Phelps, features almost a dozen U.S. Olympians who candidly discuss their challenges maintaining their mental health.

The takeaway: If world-class athletes can talk about their lowest emotional moments, perhaps they can inspire the rest of us to confront ours in a constructive, healthy way.

“I don't think it's a disease,” said Colorado native Katie Uhlaender, a four-time Olympian in skeleton, about mental illness. “I think it's something we all deal with. It's just that some of us get caught up and spiral a little bit easier than others. The way I look at it, it's just as important as your physical health.”

Uhlaender appeared on Colorado Matters, along with two-time Olympian and Colorado native Jeremy Bloom, to talk about their participation in “The Weight of Gold.”

Bloom, an executive producer of the documentary, said mental health struggles are universally felt, shared among elite athletes and couch potatoes alike.

“We all deal with life, right? We all deal with adversity,” he said. “We all deal with failure, no matter who we are.”

JEREMY BLOOMEd Andrieski, File/AP Photo
US Olympic freestyle moguls skier Jeremy Bloom poses for a portrait on Oct. 11, 2005, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Olympians including Bloom are opening up about their mental health struggles in a new sobering documentary.

Uhlaender encourages people to not define themselves by their mental health, just as the film prods athletes to broaden their identity beyond the pool or track.

“The way you feel and how your thoughts resonate with you, don't take away your capabilities of performance,” Uhlaender said. “They don't take away the potential in your life. So it's a matter of getting rid of that false construct, that if you're having negative thoughts or feelings that you're weak, that you're not enough.”

“The Weight of Gold” is now streaming on HBO.

If you are in crisis, or are looking for mental health services for you or someone you know, call the Colorado Crisis Services hotline. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak with a trained counselor or professional. Counselors are also available at walk-in locations or online to chat between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m.