Written by Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC
This past weekend, Naomi Osaka, a 23-year old, two-time U.S. Open champion, made what I call mental health history. After being fined $15,000 and a looming threat to have her expelled from the tournament, Naomi withdrew from the French Open. What was all of this about you ask? Naomi deals with anxiety and depression. Due to a need to protect her mental health, she chose to care for herself by skipping the required press conference. This came with a slew of backlash and praise from many.
Amidst all of this, she chose to completely withdraw from the tournament. I see the devastating effects of anxiety and depression daily. As a matter of fact, one of the criteria for both of these diagnoses is that the symptoms have to impede regular daily functioning. Naomi has stated that she is an introvert. Introverts can get intensely overwhelmed by outside stimuli. Just because she has conditioned herself to keep her composure and focus while playing on the court, doesn’t mean that she can cope with the anxiety that comes from press conferences.
Not to mention, all of the horrible press and spectator backlash that she received when she won the U.S. Open against Serena Williams in 2018. She cried with a towel draped over her head as opposed to celebrating. This can be seen as a traumatic experience for her. Press conferences and post-game interviews might continue to trigger her, and therefore increase her symptoms of anxiety.
We don’t know what it’s like to be in Naomi’s head, body, or deal with her experiences. I call her brave! Brave for being transparent, brave for setting her boundary, brave for putting herself first. Unresolved stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression in the body can cause a physical break down of organs and muscles and dysregulate the immune system, causing disease. By protecting her mental health, she is protecting her physical health. She has every right to protect herself. Have some empathy, put yourself in her shoes, as she gives herself permission to be human.