The 20-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka is a rising star in the sport and has already made headlines with her incredible performance at the US Open. But she’s not the only young athlete to have experienced mental health struggles in the spotlight. The difficulties stardom can cause are often discussed in the press, but rarely discussed on a personal level. Osaka has now revealed in an essay for GQ her struggle with post-natal depression and anxiety, and the steps she took to overcome them. Here she offers a moving account of her experience, and we’ve decided to share it with you, as we believe it deserves to be read.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka recently published an essay on her blog about mental health, which resonated with readers and earned her a nomination for a National Magazine Award in the category of “Magazine Feature Writing”, at the upcoming New England Press Awards.

Naomi Osaka breaks the silence in a personal essay she wrote for TIME magazine. She talks about the importance of mental health and anxiety, the need for the media to ensure confidentiality and empathy, and her excitement about participating in her first Olympics in Tokyo. Osaka, the world’s second best tennis player, recently caused controversy by not attending the mandatory post-match press conference at the French Open. She was fined $15,000 and subsequently withdrew from the tournament and Wimbledon. This led to a lively discussion on mental health. Unlike peers like Serena Williams, who spoke out against the media with an I Said What I Said, or Allison Felix, who prioritized motherhood over a major Nike commercial, Naomi has chosen to remain silent until now. There is strength in bringing yourself out, and deciding to leave when you have lost your way is something very brave. We can only assume that at the age of 23, while under supervision, she prefers clean time to money, popularity and career, but better yet, it’s the best decision for her at the time. We, and the rest of the world, will always support them and their decision to put mental health first. Life is a journey. Over the past few weeks, my journey has taken an unexpected turn, but I’ve learned a lot and grown from it. I learned a few important lessons. Here’s what we found out about Naomi, how she feels, and 10 key insights and quotes from her undeniably powerful essay.

  1. The world is more divided today than I can remember in the 23 years of my existence. Issues that at first glance seem obvious, such as wearing a mask during a pandemic or kneeling in support of anti-racism, are hotly contested. I mean, wow. So when I said I should skip the French Open press conferences to get some mental rest, I had to be prepared for what was going to happen.
  2. It became clear to me that everyone has mental health issues or knows someone who does. The number of messages I have received from so many different people confirms this. I think we can almost all agree that each of us is human and subject to feelings and emotions.
  3. I always try to answer (press questions) with sincerity and from my heart. I was never trained in media relations, so what you see is what you get. The way I see it, the trust and respect between the athlete and the press is mutual.
  4. It was never about the press, but rather the traditional press conference format. I’ll say it again for those of you in the back: I love the press. I don’t like all these press conferences.
  5. The intention was not to cause a riot, but to take a critical look at our workplace and ask ourselves whether we can do better.
  6. Athletes are people. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are responsibilities off the court that come with it.
  7. I don’t want to participate in my personal medical history research anymore. I would therefore ask the press to show some confidentiality and sensitivity at our next meeting.
  8. I am extremely grateful to all my partners. While I’m not surprised, because I deliberately chose liberal, compassionate and progressive brand partners, I’m still very grateful.
  9. Believe it or not, I’m introverted by nature and don’t like being the center of attention. I always try to force myself to stand up for what I think is right, but that often comes at the cost of a lot of fear.
  10. I don’t feel comfortable being a spokesperson or a person for athlete mental health because it’s still very new to me and I don’t have all the answers. I hope people understand that it is normal to be unwell and that it is normal to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of the tunnel.  Michael Phelps told me that I might have saved a life by speaking out. If it’s true, it was worth it.

Read Naomi’s full essay HERE.

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