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7 Things Naomi Osaka Taught Us About Mental Health And Career Success

Source | | Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

What if you outperformed your co-workers, and you received an award for best performance among your peers? Yet, outsiders booed you for outshining everyone else to the point you had to cover your face in humiliation. Then the corporate higher-ups, after being informed that you suffer from mental health challenges, demanded you face more agitation from people who pelt you with questions that create additional anxiety and depression. And when you put your foot down, the company fined you $15,000 for refusing to further traumatize yourself. Clearly, the continued abuse would cause you to leave that job, right?

Essentially that’s what happened to tennis champ Naomi Osaka, the highest paid female athlete ever. In 2018 when she defeated Serena Williams, the crowd booed her, and she was forced to cover her head in humiliation. At the 2021 French Open, despite Osaka’s bouts with depression and anxiety, Ground Slam Tournaments (GST) threatened to disqualify her for refusing to speak to the media. After she refused to subject herself to the traumatic media onslaught, the GST fined her $15,000, and Osaka pulled out of the tournament, citing mental health issues.

The backlash was swift and fierce. To add insult to injury, some in the media vilified her for withdrawing from the French Open, calling her spoiled, weak and selfish. These reactions show that workplace mental health continues to be a divisive topic that doesn’t get the same billing as a broken arm or sprained ankle. Osaka’s treatment isn’t just about the mental health of sports figures. It’s about the expectations of all workplaces—many of which continue to make punitive demands on employees that run against the grain of their mental and emotional well-being.

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