Eating disorders ‘risen considerably’ during the pandemic, says Priory psychiatrist
- Nile Wilson won bronze in Rio Olympics and developed a huge social media following
- He suffered a neck injury and subsequent complications in 2019
- Wilson opens up about his struggles with mental health on a Priory Group podcast
- On the podcast, he recalls the struggles he had explaining how he felt to his family
Nile Wilson, the Olympic medalist who this year announced his retirement from gymnastics at the age of just 24, has spoken of “having thoughts of suicide” in the aftermath of a neck injury in 2019. He was the first Briton to win an Olympic medal on the horizontal bar, winning bronze at the Rio games, and has subsequently become a social media sensation, with his YouTube channel gaining 1.44 million subscribers.
Speaking on the Priory Group podcast ‘Sporting Highs and Lows’, Wilson observes; “Every single Olympian will feel depressed and have a come-down after it.” “You can’t ever match the euphoria of that event”, he says, and that realisation contributed to the mental health difficulties he was to experience.
Wilson describes how his mental health “deteriorated” a serious neck injury left him needing surgery in 2019; “I just kept drinking pretty much for two weeks straight until I had the surgery”, he said. He explains this was due to “the amount of pain I was in”.
He continued to suffer complications after the surgery, which prevented him from returning to gymnastics. This loss took a “horrendous” toll on his mental health. He compares the effect that being prevented from returning to sport had on him, to the loss of agency many people have felt during the pandemic, saying; “Everyone has to stop what they’re doing, you physically cannot do what you want to do because of this situation.”
Looking back at the time after the injury, Wilson said; “I felt months of anxiety and I couldn’t understand why.” He describes “a feeling of losing your purpose” when he could no longer compete, and ultimately “having thoughts of suicide”. Wilson came up with “extreme ways of coping”, often involving “gambling and alcohol”, which took a toll on his relationship with his family, who struggled to cope with the change.
“My mum and dad said ‘you’re an idiot, stop doing this’” he remembered, explaining that their reaction was perfectly understandable because they just “wanted Nile back”. In common with many people who suffer from mental health issues, he found communicating what he was experiencing to people around him very difficult because they “can’t see that pain”.
Wilson says that the right way to deal with these issues is to learn that you are not defined by external factors, be they Olympic medals, money, or fame. He says the important thing for him is thinking about the sort of person he wants to be, “what type of friend, what type of boyfriend, what type of son”. It was working on these questions that helped him get to a place where he felt he could retire from the sport. He thinks that without the support he had, he would have ended up having a similar crisis whenever he retired, and warns that not many athletes have the support they need to help them understand these issues.
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About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.