Naomi Osaka’s ‘Time Out’ Highlights a Crippling Mental Health Issue

By Alan Mozes
Health Day reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) – On Tuesday, tennis star Naomi Osaka announced her retirement from Roland Garros. The reason: an ongoing battle with depression and anxiety.

As the world’s No.2 tennis player and a quadruple winner of a Grand Slam tournament at the age of just 23, many fans may have been surprised that such a young and successful person could nevertheless fight. against mental health problems.

But experts say it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Wealth and fame are not protective,” said Dr. Timothy Sullivan, president of psychiatry and behavioral science at Staten Island University Hospital in New York.

“We only have to think of the tragic and recent losses of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Prince and others to know that mental health issues can affect anyone,” Sullivan said.

Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City, agreed. She said, “On the outside, people often think of money and fame as a panacea. But there are many cases of people who were less depressed. before they became famous. “


Indeed, fame can be “a heavy burden to bear, especially in an age when every phone has a camera and every person can have a public opinion on social media platforms,” ​​Hafeez pointed out.

And when a huge celebrity arrives at a very young age, it can give rise to what’s known as “impostor syndrome,” she added, alongside a constellation of fears revolving around the threat of ‘losing everything, becoming a has-been’ and being constantly aware of saying and doing ‘the right thing’ to keep sponsors and fans alleviated. ”

Brittany LeMonda, senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, supported the idea.

Millions affected

“It may be surprising to some people that a very successful person is depressed or anxious,” LeMonda noted. “However, clinicians and mental health professionals recognize that psychiatric illness can and does affect anyone, regardless of career, money, [or] Fame. In some cases, anxiety and depression may be more prevalent in high achievers, given the perceived pressure or perceived risk of failure. But mental health disorders don’t discriminate and can affect those who do incredibly well on the outside. “


Osaka said her battle with depression dates back to a victory she won – do not one loss – at the 2018 US Open in New York. On this particular occasion, she defeated tennis legend and apparently crowd favorite Serena Williams.

“The truth is that I have suffered long periods of depression since the US Open in 2018 and have had a hard time dealing with it,” she noted in an Instagram post on Tuesday, in a statement. which amounted to its first public recognition. a lasting fight against depression.

But aside from the details of his life challenges, it’s an affliction that puts Osaka in great company, noted Hafeez and LeMonda.

Depression strikes “more than 264 million people of all ages” and from all walks of life around the world, Hafeez explained, while anxiety disorder is considered the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting the lives of about 40 million American adults.

“Anxiety and depression are among the most common psychiatric illnesses,” added LeMonda. “About one in five people will experience anxiety and / or depression at some point in their life. So yes, it’s quite common to experience these symptoms at some point in your life.”


And while it is undoubtedly a difficult time in Osaka’s life and career, Hafeez and LeMonda have said that her decision to tell her story could prove immensely useful for millions of people who share his pain, helping to alleviate the stigma often associated with mental illness. .

Make fame a good cause

“I think it’s very powerful when those we idolize or seek out use their platforms to recognize their own struggles,” LeMonda said. “It helps ‘normalize’ our own difficulties and allows us to recognize that psychiatric disorders are not discriminatory and can affect anyone.”

Hafeez observed that “Ms Osaka’s public disclosure follows Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In the latter you have royalty and in the former you have a world-class athlete.” And the fact that millennials and Gen Z celebrities are ready to be so open could turn out to be “a game changer for ‘regular people’,” Hafeez said.


Sullivan agreed, adding that, “To the extent that celebrities inspire their fans, modeling vulnerability and transparency is helpful, as is prioritizing personal care (as Ms. Osaka has done) and researching personal care. ‘treatment (which Ms. Osaka appears to have done as well). ”


Yet when it comes to overcoming the stigma of depression, Hafeez noted, “change takes time.”

Yet, with the attention to mental health issues brought by an announcement like Osaka’s, Hafeez hopes that eventually, “just as you can call a sick day for a headache or take time off from work.” motherhood, the same consideration and understanding will be given to mental health issues. health problems in the business world. Removing the stigma is half the battle.

LeMonda fully agreed.

“I hope that as more and more people with these powerful platforms continue to speak out, the stigma against mental illness will continue to dissipate and we will no longer have to hide our struggles,” a- she declared. “This will dramatically improve the results of the treatment.”

More information

There is more information on depression at the US National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and faculty member, Columbia University, New York City; Brittany LeMonda, PhD, senior neuropsychologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York; Timothy Sullivan, MD, president, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Staten Island University Hospital, New York City

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