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Noah Lyles speaks about mental health struggles, spurs important conversation

Lyles tweeted about his mental health on Sunday and many other runners opened up about their personal struggles in response

Noah Lyles, the reigning 200m world champion, posted to Twitter on Sunday that he’s recently gone on antidepressant medication. Lyles’s tweet has been liked, shared and commented on thousands of times in under 24 hours, and reopened the important conversation about mental health among runners. He wrote, “Recently I decided to get on antidepressant medication. That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Since then I have been able to think with out the dark undertone in mind of nothing matters.”

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Running is a sport which embraces and encourages toughness – runners are regularly told to be strong and work hard. While running is a gritty sport, this mentality of remaining tough can present a challenge, especially when it comes to mental health.

Canadian steeplechaser and multi-time NCAA medallist Charlotte Prouse retweeted Lyles’ message, sharing some personal details about her own experience with mental health and taking medications to help her when she was most down. Prouse describes having a hard time following a breakout performance at the 2016 World Junior Championships, where she placed sixth in the steeplechase. “Coming off of that performance, I had big goals for myself in the fall of 2016. After a month or two, I found myself in a really weird headspace. Things changed, and I felt like I was being really hard on myself all of the time.”

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Prouse describes fighting her feelings, as she felt that they were signs of weakness. “In running everyone wants to talk about success, making it super hard to talk about the days that are bad. Part of being successful is being mentally tough, but that can come at a price. I felt like I was a robot for so long because I mentally shut down. I couldn’t handle how upset and sad I was all of the time, so I chose to ignore it.”

Later that fall, Prouse would speak with her team doctors at the University of Washington and began taking medication for depression, but didn’t tell anyone, “I was really embarrassed. I felt weak. I told only one of my coaches and felt mortified after.” Prouse took the medication for a year and a half, while making some major life changes in hopes of a positive change. She came home to London, Ont. for the summer of 2017 and transferred schools in the fall, making the move to the University of New Mexico, where she would become a critical member of their women’s cross-country dynasty. 

Prouse feels that she needed to fall in love with running again, which is why she made the decision to move home for four months. “There are always days that are tough, but talking to people helps – taking a break from running also helped a lot. I needed a fresh start which meant that I needed a new environment. I went back home and hung out with the people who helped me fall in love with running in the first place, and then started at UNM in the fall.”

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From there, things got much better for Prouse. She helped her team to an NCAA victory, snagged many spots in NCAA finals and finished in second place (twice) in the steeplechase. “Running has brought my highest highs and lowest lows. I still check in with myself to make sure that I’m feeling good personally and as a runner. I’ve learned that there’s a thin line between training for the right reasons and training because you think you’re not doing enough.”

Prouse is currently stationed in New Mexico as she trains to hopefully make her first Olympic team next summer. She’s got her mental health in a good place, but believes that it’s a conversation we need to keep having in the running community. “When you’re truthful and you’re not just posting out the good stuff on social media, it makes your story even more incredible. Noah’s post was really cool to see.”