Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have been longtime advocates for mental health awareness, so when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open—and later Wimbledon—to take care of her own well-being, the Duchess of Sussex was among many to reach out to the tennis star.
In a personal essay published in Time on July 8, Osaka opened up further about her decision to remove herself from the Grand Slam tournaments to “take care of myself mentally” after being penalized for missing a press conference at the French Open.
One positive lesson from the experience? “It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does,” Osaka wrote. “The number of messages I received from such a vast cross-section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions.”
Some of those empathetic well-wishers include Michelle Obama, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and, yes, Meghan Markle. “I want to thank everyone who supported me. There are too many to name, but I want to start with my family and friends, who have been amazing,” Osaka wrote. “There is nothing more important than those relationships. I also want to thank those in the public eye who have supported, encouraged, and offered such kind words. Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, Meghan Markle, to name a few.”
In her essay, Osaka advocates for her fellow athletes’ rights “to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
She wrote, “I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health. I stand by that. Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course, there are commitments off the court that coincide. But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized.”
Ultimately, Osaka felt she was pressured to discuss her battle with depression and denied the privacy that she deserves. “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,” she wrote. “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 added that she didn’t feel believed by those in charge of the tournament.
“I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones,” she continued. “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.”
That will likely be later this month, when Osaka competes in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. “I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo,” she wrote. “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.”