Athletes and Mental Health: Naomi Osaka adds to the conversation


NYT > Sports

“If you type in ‘athlete depression’ you will find that the best athletes in the world are vulnerable and share what they have been through,” she said. “It’s a huge difference. It says that you can be a top athlete – the best in the world – and still be afraid. “

But generations of athletes hardly had the feeling that they could be so transparent.

The attention paid to the illness of Jimmy Piersall, a professional baseball player who was admitted to a mental hospital in 1952 and whose illness was later the subject of the book and film “Fear Strikes Out,” was remarkable because it was so far from the rule by the time.

In high school in the late 1990s, Dr. Houle kept his sessions with a sports psychologist secret because, as he recalled Tuesday, he feared “people would think I lost it or I was mentally weak or something”. In the 2010s, athletes who ultimately chose to detail their health histories hesitated, even as society became more accepting of the mental health struggles, for fear that they might be viewed as unfit and impaired.

“The stigma is almost increased in our sports world because weakness is something you never show. Weakness isn’t part of being that athlete, being the elite, being the best, ”said Leeann Passaro, who played soccer at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and now works with Ms. Garrick at an advocacy group, The Hidden Opponent who focuses on wellbeing in sports.

Ms. Osaka’s announcement, Ms. Passaro said, was particularly noteworthy because it exposed her illness amid acute difficulties.

“She’s just about to come out and say something that is very different from the athletes who said something in the reflection,” said Ms. Passaro, who had to do with anxiety and depression.

Although many tennis players were reluctant to accept Ms. Osaka’s decision to avoid reporters at the French Open, which she announced last week, some who remained on the tournament field in Paris said Tuesday that they respect her decision, more about their challenges to explain .

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