Athletes Biles, Osaka bring attention to mental health


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Two high-profile athletes are demonstrating that it’s “ok to not be ok.” Gymnast Simone Biles dropping out of most of the Olympic competitions and tennis star Naomi Osaka stepping away from the French Open and Wimbleton. Both say they were prioritizing their mental health.  

“These women are definitely setting some important milestones for the rest of us because mental health is such a big issue,” said psychologist Sanam Hafeez of Comprehend the Mind. She says many of us struggle with daily, family, and work obligations due to mental health issues.  

“But most of us are not Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka and we can’t just walk into our boss’s office and say, ‘eh, I’m not coming to work tomorrow,’ because we have to pay the bills and put food on the table. The conversation starting is definitely a really a positive thing,” she said. 

And not just among the general public, but policymakers, school administrators, and employers who she says need to understand that when people suffer, their productivity suffers. 

“Small changes can make a huge difference to people. So if you feel like the sun’s the best, ‘I love morning time but I’m in my office,’ have a talk with your boss. Say, ‘can I work an hour or two a day remotely or can I come in a little later?’” 

Anxiety disorders are the most common illness in the U.S. and they often co-occur with depression. 

“You’re extremely fatigued, you’re unmotivated, you don’t want to go to work, you don’t want to see friends, you’re an avid reader or you love to play tennis, or you love to watch movies, and you suddenly don’t find any interest in them. These things are hallmarks of depression.” 

According to the Mayo Clinic, about twice as many women experience depression as men. Hormonal changes could be partly to blame and what Dr. Hafeez describes as the weight of the world on their shoulders. 

“I talk a lot about not being a martyr not feeling like you have to be superwoman. It is ok to say, ‘I’m tired, we’re getting takeout tonight.’” Ask someone to do something, assign chores, assign tasks.” 

She says if more people reach out and ask for help like Osaka and Biles did, we can begin to crack the stigma attached to mental illness.  

If you need help but don’t know where to turn, you can reach out to your primary care provider who can refer you to a mental health professional. Remember, depression and anxiety are treatable so don’t hesitate to seek help. And for support in a crisis, call the suicide prevention hotline, 800-273-TALK. 

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