If you follow tennis or sports, you probably know that tennis superstar Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open yesterday. She had run afoul of the tennis authorities when she said she wasn’t going to do any of the mandatory press conferences. She cited her mental health.
The response to Osaka’s decision was swift. She was fined $15,000 and threatened with being forced out of the French Open and denied access to other Grand Slam events. So yesterday, she took to Twitter:
Osaka wanted out. She said she needs time away from the court. I find it an amazing coincidence that she made this announcement on the final day of Mental Health Awareness Month.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH):
Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019). Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Two broad categories can be used to describe these conditions: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). AMI encompasses all recognized mental illnesses. SMI is a smaller and more severe subset of AMI. Additional information on mental illnesses can be found on the NIMH Health Topics Pages.
The past year has been particularly hard for a lot of us. I have personal experience dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other issues. I am an extrovert and cannot imagine how I would have survived without Zoom. If I had been alive in 1918, I never would have made it through that. It is worth noting the impact mental illness has on physical health. There is no way to separate mental health from physical health. Insomnia, for instance, can weaken the immune system, and people who suffer from it have shorter lifespans.
We don’t take mental health as seriously as physical health. We also don’t prioritize self-care. Recent research shows that overworking can be deadly. In Japan, after putting 150 hours of overtime in one month, a 31-year-old woman died from congestive heart failure. Her employer attributed her death to overwork.
Now, there are a few divergent thoughts on Osaka and her decision to not talk to the press and then to drop out of the French Open. Some say that she makes tens of millions of dollars from playing tennis, doing interviews and press conferences is part of the job. I can see that point of view but that does not mean it has to be as exploitative as it is today. Just because you are an exceptional athlete does not mean you are an exceptional public speaker. I think the tennis powers that be could do more to protect the players and support them when/if they need it.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month had the theme, “You are not alone.” Seeing someone as high profile as Osaka say, “I need to step back from this and focus on my mental health and well-being,” does a lot to show “no one is alone.” Where I live on Long Island, there are posters all over the railroad stations telling people to go for help if they feel suicidal.
I stand with Serena Williams, Steph Curry, and Coco Goff. Naomi, thank you for being so brave and so honest. I hope you take the time you need to heal and find your way back to the sport that needs you so.