Naomi Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the French Open after being told that she would risk disqualification for refusing to attend media conferences as part of the tournament and citing mental health issues as the reason for this has caused outrage in the media, the public and the tennis world.
The intense public backlash and reaction caught me off guard and has forced me to think about how this situation would be handled in any other workplace and what it says about the public conversation surrounding mental health.
For many punters, the commentary on this decision is just par for the course, if you play in a Grand Slam, then you should stick to the media obligations that are expected of you.
However, it is important that we take a step back and remember that while, for us, Roland-Garros is a public spectacle that we get to enjoy once a year, for Osaka and her peers, it is their job.
If she were a colleague or employee of ours, would we react the same way or would we act with more understanding and compassion?
The criticism being levelled at Osaka insinuating that she is feigning mental health issues as a way to get ahead in the competition, definitely doesn't leave any room for sensitivity or empathy.
In addition to the personal pain that the entire ordeal must be causing Osaka, for regular people watching on, seeing someone as high-profile as Osaka being punished for her actions only works to further embed the idea that mental health isn’t taken seriously into our collective cultural consciousness. It perpetuates the fears and hesitations that many everyday, blue and white collar professionals have when it comes to speaking up about mental health in their own workplaces.
So, while it is disappointing to see such little thought given to Osaka’s mental wellbeing, this story clearly illustrates three key things we are getting wrong as a society when it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace.
Saying no is okay
It is okay to say no to commitments or explain that you can’t do something due to mental health, it is just as valid a reason as a physical injury or illness. If a colleague or employee feels that they are unable to complete a task due to the state of their mental health, act with kindness, understanding and empathy. It is already difficult enough to be vulnerable about how you are feeling without being told you are an inconvenience for doing so.
Act with compassion and leave suspicions at the door
When somebody tells you something is wrong, believe them. Whether you are a manager, employer or mate, if someone tells you that they are not coping or that they are struggling, the best initial reaction you can have is to actively listen, believe them and to offer help. Feeding into narratives that someone is lazy or bratty for voicing their concerns about their mental health can force someone to retreat further into themselves.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate
Your view of how hard someone’s job or life is, is irrelevant to their mental health. Brushing someone off because their life “can’t be that hard” only makes people feel more isolated and alone. A good rule of thumb is to treat those around you as you would like to be treated and not to make assumptions based on how much status, money or outward success someone seems to have.
If you are struggling with how to open up in the workplace or you just need a yarn, text or call TIACS.ORG on 0488 846 988 to chat to a qualified psychologist for free, for as long as you want.
TIACS.ORG provides free, unlimited and ongoing professional mental health support for Tradies, Truckies and Blue Collar workers.