Discussion about Osaka’s mental health a year ago resonates at Roland Garros


Naomi Osaka’s 2022 French Open is over after a first-round loss.

Players remaining in the tournament see and hear the products of his frank discussion of anxiety and depression a year ago, from new silent rooms and three on-call psychiatrists at Roland Garros to a broader sense than mental health is a much less taboo subject than it once was.

I remember after returning from France last year and being followed by photographers even in random places like the grocery store. It was really strange and a bit overwhelming, until one day a woman came to me and said that by speaking up I helped her son, Osaka wrote in a recent email to the Associated Press.

At that time, it was all worth it.

In conversations with the AP shortly before or during the French Open, which began on Sunday, several professional tennis players credited Osaka with helping bring the subject out of the shadows for their sport and, in concert with the voices of other athletes such as Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles, helping to foster greater awareness and concern.

I really think it’s something that gets a lot more attention than it was, at least when I was a teenager. I don’t even think I knew what it was at the time. And we see people expressing themselves and normalizing it a bit in a way where it doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with something, no matter if it’s on the pitch, off the pitch, whatever, said Jessica Pegula, 28. -old from New York who reached the second round of Roland-Garros on Tuesday.

In tennis, the life we ​​lead is not so normal, she said.

This can lead to many unhealthy habits.

Taylor Fritz, at No. 14, the highest-ranked American man, agreed.

Travel every week. Never be home. Ranking pressure, he says.

Everyone is different, so I feel like a laid back, easy going person and not a lot of things really bother me, but I fully understand that it’s an extremely mentally draining sport.

Osaka was not the first to address this.

But her prominent place, as a four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, and her decisions to withdraw from Roland Garros, explain why and take two mental health breaks last season have largely resonated.

Every time an athlete shares their vulnerability and authenticity, it will affect other athletes in that sport. There’s a relatability, said Becky Ahlgren Bedics, WTA vice president of mental health and wellness.

So, I don’t know if I would necessarily attribute it to a person or an event, but… it forces others to sit up and notice and kind of say, Well, maybe I should pursue something along these lines as well.

Paola Badosa, a 24-year-old Spaniard who won on Tuesday, was quick to speak about her own anxiety.

She, like others, appreciated Osaka’s candor.

We are all human. We all have to deal with all these mental struggles. We are struggling, Badosa said.

And it’s important that players like her talk about it.

Another more recent example: 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, a 21-year-old Canadian who will face Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Paris on Wednesday, announced in December that she would not participate at the start of this season, including the Australian Open, so that she can recover, recuperate and grow after two difficult years.

More and more players are speaking out about it or about it. Some even take time to regroup and get away from the noise. There is, of course, a lot of noise, especially when you’re in the spotlight or winning big tournaments and there’s a lot of pressure to support it, said fellow Canadian player Denis Shapovalov, 23. , Wimbledon semi-finalist. Last year.

With social media now, it’s not an easy time. And a key is that you kind of have to know which voice is important and which you don’t need to focus on.

Ahead of Roland Garros last year, Osaka said she had no plans to speak to the media. After her first-round victory, she was fined $15,000 for skipping a mandatory press conference (a requirement that hasn’t changed at the French Open or other major championships) and threatened by the four Grand Slam tournaments with an additional penalty if it started again.

Instead, Osaka pulled out of the event, revealed what she had been going through for years, and chose to step away from tennis.

I think everyone was surprised and wasn’t ready for it, said Kildine Chevalier, who was hired in October as head of services and player relations for the French Tennis Federation.

It’s important now that we take these issues into consideration, said Chevalier, a former professional gamer who has not worked in mental health before, so as not to repeat a similar situation and to prevent (it) instead. to act when it is already there.

According to Chevalier, the new facilities for the players of this French Open include an 80 square meter room in the main stadium with 11 beds and noise-canceling headphones, a yoga room with daily workshops on meditation and breathing, a lounge tea, a salon nail salon and telephone hotlines to reach psychologists or psychiatrists.

This is separate from what the men’s and women’s circuits offer, such as a member of the WTA mental health and wellbeing team who is on hand at Roland Garros. Chevalier said the office is near his, so I see players coming all day. … She works a lot.

These meetings have been available for years on the Women’s Tour, but Ahlgren Bedics estimated that there was a 30% increase in sessions for WTA players in the first months of 2022, compared to the first quarter of 2021.

That’s a pretty big leap, she said.

If an athlete wants to go 10 minutes and say, I’m really frustrated with how practice went today and I just need to vent,” that could be 10 minutes. Or the exact same symptoms could last for 90 minutes. It’s really up to the athlete to decide what they want to share and what they want to accomplish during their time with us.

Rebecca Marino, a former top 40 player for Canada, left the circuit for almost five years due to depression, but is back now and secured her first French Open finish since 2011 by passing the qualifying rounds . She notices a difference in the way mental health is discussed these days in tennis, yes, but also in society and said she has a lot of praise for the way the WTA is approaching the issue.

People didn’t really understand what I was going through with my mental health and why I was walking away from sports,” Marino said.

We now have many more athletes discussing the importance of mental health in their careers. It really opened up the conversation to a lot more people and it created a more positive conversation, which I think is really wonderful and I’m glad that’s starting to happen.

Still, Frances Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who considers Osaka a close friend, noted there was work to be done to get people to understand they should talk about mental health issues.

Sometimes you don’t want to be vulnerable with each other,” he said on Tuesday after winning a match at Roland Garros for the first time.

“If you complain, then you are called meek.” But when you think about it, you are actually strong. Sometimes people really go through a lot on the inside, but they hide it and try to pretend to be super tough. Sometimes you just have to verbalize it. You need a safe space to be heard. With Naomi, she was going through things at that time.

Osaka, a 23-year-old who was born in Japan and now lives in the United States, has remained part of the conversation in public ways, whether it’s just letting people know she’s talking to a therapist or becoming a investor with a lead community health advocate role for Modern Health, which bills itself as a global mental health and workplace wellness platform.

She records the meditations the company makes available to the public, and CEO and Founder Alyson Watson said Osaka can play such a big role in de-stigmatizing mental health and really paving the way, not just for athletes. , but to other people, to talk about in trouble, too.

In her email to the AP, Osaka wrote about keeping quiet about her feelings growing up, overcoming that and, regarding her 2021 French Open, added: This year I am in a different state, that’s for sure.

On Tuesday evening, a day after leaving the tournament, Osaka tweeted: The last few weeks in Europe have been a real test of character but I’m glad I came. … I leave with a completely different emotion from the previous one.

(Only the title and image of this report may have been edited by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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