Naomi Osaka’s franchise on anxiety and depression could help reform elite sports

Tennis star Naomi Osaka’s decision to quit Roland Garros after revealing her battles with anxiety and depression has stunned the sports world – and mental health experts hope her franchise will help improve tennis and improve tennis. other sports.

“It really shines a light on mental health in elite sport right now,” said Rosemary Purcell, director of the Center for Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne.

“His strong statement is definitely going to have an impact on the world of professional tennis,” said Jim Taylor, a sports psychologist who has worked with professional athletes.

Osaka, a four-time major tournament champion, announced on Monday that she was withdrawing from Roland Garros after being fined $ 15,000 for refusing to speak to reporters after her first-round victory.

On social media, Osaka revealed she has “suffered from long periods of depression” since her first major victory in 2018, adding that as an introvert she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media.

Research shows that about a third of elite athletes will experience anxiety and depression at some point in their careers. However, the subject remains taboo.

“They are at their physical peak and we just expect them to be at their mental peak as well,” said Purcell, who studies mental health issues in professional sport.

She says athletes are particularly vulnerable because of the sacrifices they made to reach the top.

“A lot of times that means they don’t have any friendship networks. They haven’t gone to school and haven’t made those kinds of social connections. They travel the overwhelming majority of the year, so they’re not at home, ”Purcell said. mentionned.

Purcell is part of a new International Olympic Committee mental health task force, and she has helped set up an 80-language helpline for all Olympians to speak to psychologists this summer in Tokyo.

“The hope is that we can detect athletes who may have mental health issues as early as possible,” Purcell said.

Regarding tennis, Grand Slam leaders on Tuesday pledged to address Osaka’s concerns and “improve the player experience” while ensuring that athletes are all on a “level playing field. “.

Taylor hopes Osaka finds comfort in knowing that she is further destigmatizing the subject in sports and in society.

“The more we can see more important people having mental health issues, being open about them, discussing the treatment, it makes it a little more acceptable, a little more acceptable for people just in the real world to recognize their own. challenges because the point is that mental illness can be treated, ”he said.

This story was originally posted by Ben Schamisso for Newsy.

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