By Constantinos Massonos, Contributor
Almost a year ago, in May 2021, tennis player Naomi Osaka announced her decision to withdraw from the upcoming French Open, due to issues concerning her mental health. Her withdrawal followed the organizers’ decision to fine her for declining to attend press conferences.
After the initial social media backlash, stars from a range of different sports started showing their support to her taking a stand and publicly discussing her mental issues; issues that affect numerous athletes like depression, anxiety and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.
One of the star athletes who supported Osaka’s decision was swimming legend Michael Phelps. Phelps expressed his admiration for Osaka’s courage to share her feelings and emotions on a social media platform as himself had to battle depression and suicidal thoughts after the 2012 Olympics.
A few months after Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal, another star athlete, Simone Biles, decided to prioritize her mental well-being and withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics women’s gymnastics team final. Simon Biles was one of the sexual abuse victims of Larry Nassar, former doctor of the US Women’s National Gymnastics team. While Nassar was convicted for life, Biles confessed that the legacy of Nassar’s abuse had affected her decision to withdraw from the event.
Tennis player, Bianca Andreescu, decided to take a five-month break from tennis in order to deal with her mental issues and find a sense of purpose by volunteering for multiple charities. Andreescu’s experience with dealing with mental health issues helped her author the book titled Bibi’s Got Game: A Story About Tennis, which aims to help kids deal with their mental health.
NBA star player, Kevin Love, has been fighting with depression and anxiety for decades. Now he plans to help and support others with the tools he personally uses to deal with mental health issues, through the Kevin Love Fund.
Formula 1 driver, Valtteri Bottas, is another athlete who decided to open up about the mental health issues he faced early in his career and brought him close to quitting. Bottas rediscovered his love for the sport with the help of a psychologist.
All these brave athletes who found the courage to open up to the public about their struggles with sustaining their mental health have had a critical role in pushing for change in how the leagues and other sport bodies view mental health. One of the leagues with the “take it like a man” mentality, the NFL, has launched in 2019, the Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness committee that develops programs for players, staff and their families regarding mental health and wellness.
More importantly, invoking mental health in such a serious way by top athletes, helps more and more other athletes to feel ok with the idea that their mental health is as important as their physical health and seek help for depression, anxiety, stress and any other problem they may face.
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