Noah Lyles Returns to Alexandria to Share Mental Health Journey

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Track and field athlete and Olympian Noah Lyles is used to breaking boundaries when it comes to running. It’s no surprise that he would use that same drive to openly share about his struggles with mental health.

Lyles returned to Alexandria City High School on Tuesday evening to meet with students and community members. He answered questions about his athletic experiences, of course, but the main purpose of his visit was to share the importance of support for mental health.

A lot has changed since Lyles graduated from high school in 2016: He became the second fastest American to run the 200m with a time of 19:50 in 2019 and is the current world champion in the event. He qualified for the 2020 Olympic team and won a bronze medal in Tokyo at this summer's Olympics. Even the name of his alma mater has changed from T.C. Williams to Alexandria City High School.

“It hurts a little because I grew up with the name T.C. Williams. The reason I actually came to this school is because I watched the movie ‘Remember The Titans’ and I told my mom I wanted to go to that school,” Lyles recalled with a laugh.  “On the other hand, change has to happen, it’s inevitable. I’m actually very proud that the community came together and they made that decision,” he explained.

Initially, after returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games with a bronze medal, Lyles just wanted to take a break. Instead, he has been speaking to crowds across the country about his journey through the Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation, a non-profit started by his family that seeks to build up communities. The name of the foundation refers to Lyles and his brother, Josephus, who is also a professional athlete.

“I feel like I’m on tour. It’s the fun stuff, but at the same time it’s still tiring,” said Lyles.  He also managed to sneak in winning the men’s 200m at the Prefontaine Classic 2021 in August with a time of 19:52.

In one of the most-watched interviews at the Olympics, an emotional Lyles talked for 15 minutes after his bronze medal win about his mental health struggles and encouraged others to get help if they need it.  

“I have this platform and I want to invoke change. I want to invoke a good message, a positive way that people can see themselves or even move forward,” Lyles explained Tuesday evening.

While Lyles revealed he has been seeing therapists since a young age, thanks to the active support of his mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, he admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement intensified his anxiety and depression to the point where he decided to take medication.

“I felt like I had been handling depression and anxiety very well since high school, and throughout, I’d made it this far. I didn’t want to go on [medication] — I was scared,” Lyles said. He was worried it would change him, but once he understood how the medicine works with the natural hormones in your body, he got on board and said the effects almost immediately made him feel like himself again. He is off the medication now and feeling better.

Lyles shared his advice for those currently dealing with their own anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. “Speak up, tell somebody. Nobody can help you if you’re not saying anything. Seek professional help. Of course your friends and family are great, but none of them are trained to actually get you through this. Find a therapist that really works for you, not every therapist is for each person so find one that you resonate with. Be open to the ideas, because whatever you have been doing has not been working.” He also encouraged those struggling to surround themselves with a genuine and supportive network of people.

Lyles also encouraged coaches and teachers to educate themselves about mental health so they can better spot issues in their athletes or students. He advised them not to create too much pressure but instead to keep it fun and create a safe space where students feel like they can share without judgment.

Despite his busy schedule, Lyles has been able to spend time with family and sneak in a few late night video game sessions. He’s been taking a break from training practices for now, but is more motivated than ever to keep pushing himself to be the best.

“Not having a gold medal is going to make me extremely hungry. Not having the Olympics go how I planned it to go really made me strive, think in my head I’m going to mess some people up in these next [few] years,” Lyles explained.

Lyles and the Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation hope to be back in Alexandria in the near future to host a track meet at Alexandria City High School and continue to spread a positive message.

Photos by Alexandria Living Magazine

Photos by Alexandria Living Magazine

Photos by Alexandria Living Magazine

Photos by Alexandria Living Magazine

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