Naomi Osaka opens up in an essay for Time about withdrawing from the French Open over mental health concerns and why athletes deserve a periodic "mental break"

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Naomi Osaka
Credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

Naomi Osaka says she felt pressured to disclose personal details about her mental health so people would believe her reasoning for withdrawing from the French Open in May.

Penning a powerful new essay for Time magazine, the 23-year-old tennis pro opens up about putting her self-care first, saying that athletes deserve "the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions."

Ahead of the French Open's start in late May, Osaka said she wouldn't be doing press during the championship in an effort to preserve her mental wellness. She then picked up her first win and a $15,000 fine for not participating in media requirements.

She subsequently announced she was pulling out of the tournament, adding in a statement that she "never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly."

Osaka, in her personal essay, recalled the pressure she felt to cite mental health as her reason for withdrawing.

"In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it's not habitual. You wouldn't have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy," she wrote.

"In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me," continued Osaka. "I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet."

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The athlete explained that she is "naturally introverted and [does] not court the spotlight," adding, "I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety." Osaka previously shared that she's suffered from depression since 2018.

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"I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it's still so new to me and I don't have all the answers," she wrote. "I do hope that people can relate and understand it's okay to not be okay, and it's okay to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel."

Osaka, who also did not compete in Wimbledon — which is ongoing — said, "After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward. I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud."

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.