Naomi Osaka Hopes Her Admission About Mental Health Helps People See 'Athletes Are Still Humans'

"We all are dealing with something in our lives," Naomi Osaka said

Naomi Osaka x Women's Health
Photo: Djeneba Aduayom for Women’s Health

Naomi Osaka wants everyone to be more understanding.

The 23-year-old tennis champ made headlines for amplifying the conversation about athletes' mental health after she withdrew from the French Open in May, citing anxiety surrounding media interviews. The next month, she then withdrew from Wimbledon to take "personal time" before competing at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Osaka told Women's Health for the magazine's September issue cover story, out Monday, that because "we live in a world where people are so quick to speak and to comment," her "silence is almost uncomfortable" to some people.

"I hope I was able to help some people and for them to see that even athletes are still humans like the rest of us. And we all are dealing with something in our lives," she said.

"Growing up," Osaka later added, "being [labeled] 'the quiet one' puts you in a box and, even worse, makes you stand out when all you want is to blend in. But now I try to embrace and own it."

Want to get the biggest stories from PEOPLE every weekday? Subscribe to our new podcast, PEOPLE Every Day, to get the essential celebrity, entertainment and human interest news stories Monday through Friday.

Osaka explained that, to help quell some of her anxieties, she listens to music from artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Saweetie right before a tennis match: "[It] helps dull my social anxiety. Music calms me, it silences the noise that won't help my game. For me, music is inspiring and uplifting."

However, the athlete assured there's more to life than just playing tennis at its highest level.

"Now more than ever I see that you can be more than just one thing. More than just someone who plays tennis," she said.

RELATED VIDEO: 'We're All Human': Aly Raisman on Her Support for Naomi Osaka and Normalizing Mental Health

In a powerful essay for Time magazine last month, Osaka said she felt pressured to disclose personal details about her mental health so people would believe her reasoning for withdrawing from the French Open.

"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."

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.

Related Articles