Naomi Osaka Was 'Surprised' by How Many Were Also Struggling with Mental Health 'But Afraid to Speak Up'

Naomi Osaka opted to sit out of two Grand Slam tournaments earlier this year, revealing to the public that she'd been battling depression and struggling with all the press requirements for professional athletes

Naomi Osaka of Japan in action during the second round of the 2021 Western & Southern Open WTA 1000 tennis tournament Western & Southern Open Day Five, Tennis, Cincinnati, USA, 18 Aug 2021
Naomi Osaka. Photo: Rob Prange/Shutterstock

Naomi Osaka is grateful for the response to her vulnerable confession earlier this year that she's grappled with depression and anxiety — and surprised by its impact.

While speaking with PEOPLE about releasing NFTs with Tom Brady-co-founded platform Autograph, the tennis superstar says, "I never thought about speaking my mind as something that was difficult. I really just wanted to express my true feelings and be honest with not only myself but to others about struggles. The more we can all be open the more we can help each other be better."

And since then, Osaka has realized she's helped many.

"It has been really nice to feel supported not only by my family, team and brand partners but also by the fans and fellow athletes," the 23-year-old says. "I was most surprised to hear from so many people that they, too, had been struggling but we afraid to speak up."

Osaka withdrew from the French Open in May, citing anxiety surrounding media interviews and confirming that she'd been facing depression since winning the US Open in 2018. The next month, she then withdrew from Wimbledon to take "personal time" before competing at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, where she fell in the third round.

The athlete was met by praise from countless other athletes, including Michael Phelps, who opened up about their own mental health journeys and cheered on her candidness.

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 tells PEOPLE she's now found ways that help her to keep her "centered" — from meditation to listening to music and gaming. Those practices will be helpful as she gears up for the US Open, which kicks off in New York next week.

"I love playing at the US open as it brings me back to Queens, where I grew up training and it feels like I am always coming back to a place with great memories," she says.

Osaka never stops training, with tournament-prep part of her daily life, so there's been no huge change-up before the Grand Slam: "There is always an element of training and physical fitness."

Related Articles