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What Naomi Osaka Taught Us about Mental Health

Five lessons to improve our lives today.

Over the course of the last few years, the number of people suffering from mental health conditions such as anxiety attacks and depression has been on the rise. According to the World Bank, mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health – and this was true even before the pandemic, which has only worsened the situation. While there have been positive strides around mental health awareness, there is a considerable way to go before conditions such as anxiety and depression receive the attention they deserve. 

Mental Health and Grand Slam Tennis 

Taking a page out of recent news regarding Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open and Wimbledon due to anxiety attacks brought about by post-match interviews. Ranked number two by the Women’s Tennis Association, the 23-year-old has generated renewed conversations and debates around mental health. On Twitter, the tennis phenomenon explained that she had been struggling with long bouts of depression, citing media interviews as a trigger for her anxiety.

Naomi chose to sacrifice career-defining matches in a decision to put her well-being first. In response, she was fined $15,000 by the French Open event organisers – clearly, an area where mental health awareness needs to expand. Anyone who has been in Naomi’s shoes will understand that this couldn’t have been an easy decision. However, the move was nothing short of brave, knowing (sadly) the damage it could wreak on her career and reputation. As for the silver lining? It highlighted several essential learnings for those suffering from mental health-related issues. 

1. Anyone can suffer from anxiety and depression.

Sadly, there is still stigma attached to mental health disorders. This often-silent killer is nothing to be ashamed of and, hopefully, Naomi’s actions will encourage more individuals to speak out and be open about their personal challenges. If a four-time Grand Slam winner with a fantastic fitness routine and professional coaches can suffer from anxiety attacks and depression, then we all can – and it’s okay. Mental health shouldn’t be something that causes embarrassment. 

2. There should be no shame in putting your well-being first.

Yes, it was a difficult decision. Yes, she faced backlash. But in the long run, was it the right decision for her? Yes, it was! Of course, some of us might not be privileged enough to up and leave our homes or jobs under such circumstances. However, if there are changes that you can make to your life in order to improve your mental well-being, you are well within your rights to make those decisions. Just do you.

3. It’s important to understand your triggers.

Naomi had a clear understanding that media interviews triggered her anxiety attacks, and they were not worth enduring for her personal wellness. If you do suffer from depression and anxiety, try to understand your triggers to manage your condition better, and do not unnecessarily expose yourself to situations that cause you added stress.

4. It’s important to be open and honest.

At the end of the day, Naomi was honest about her personal challenges and made a decision that she felt was right for her. As long as you are open about what is right for you, no one has the right to criticise. 

5. There’s no such thing as being selfish when it comes to your mental health.

Above and beyond all else, Naomi’s bravery teaches us the importance of making decisions for you – and no one else – when it comes to mental health. Had Naomi subjected herself to the stress of those media interviews, who knows the impact it could have? Is it selfish to ensure your well-being? No, no, and no. It is not. 

For those suffering from anxiety attacks and depression, none of the above is easy, particularly where professional bodies punish someone like Naomi for making a valid decision to protect her mental health. Besides the individual learnings derived from Naomi’s withdrawal from Wimbledon and the French Open, organisations need to invest more in mental health awareness and adapt their culture to handle such cases with the needed sensitivity. There needs to be an understanding of not only the importance of mental health, but also the detrimental impact caused by a poor state of mind on relationships, health, work performance, and overall quality of life. The sooner organisations invest resources to help educate and support those dealing with issues related to mental health, the sooner we can all move towards a healthier and happier society.

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