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Depression need not define a rising tennis star — nor anyone else | READER COMMENTARY

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, reacts during her match against Maria Sakkari, of Greece, in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open tennis tournament in Miami Gardens, Florida in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. Sakkari won 6-0, 6-4. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday, May 31, 2021, and wrote on Twitter that she would be taking a break from competition, a dramatic turn of events for a four-time Grand Slam champion who said she experiences huge waves of anxiety before speaking to the media and revealed she has suffered long bouts of depression. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

On the sports sections of various newspapers and from the reports of television commentators, we learned that the young tennis champion Naomi Osaka is withdrawing from her participation in the very prestigious French Open, saying her mental health is at risk and that she frequently suffers from depression (”Naomi Osaka withdraws from the French Open and will take a break from competition: ‘Best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being,’” June 1). In my mind, she has already “won” the competition, since she is willing to expose her problem to the public.

It is not very often that those with worldwide status reveal that they suffer from the problems that we, the general public, do not reveal to our family, friends and associates — that we are medically depressed and are getting, or trying to get, help to deal with a problem that is seen by others as a weakness, insignificant and something that will just go away if we will it to do so. That is wrong. Depression is real. Depression is an illness. Depression should be treated by a health professional. Perhaps, Ms. Osaka’s revelation will convince others who suffer from depression to be more willing to seek the help that they need.


When I hit the big 5-0 and my children left the nest, I was working full-time and I noticed that I became very teary when something occurred that was upsetting or when I was alone in my house and did not hear the voices and laughter of my two sons — and especially when I cooked a meal that was just for two. When my tears turned into a waterfall and I had trouble sleeping, I knew that something was amiss. I confided in a dear friend who was a psychiatris,t and he, being very concerned, referred me to a psychiatrist friend. For months, on my way to work, very early in the morning, my husband dropped me off for my appointment and then I caught a bus to work. My talking with a health professional was my ticket to my accepting the inevitable. Children grow up, they leave home and they become independent. We must accept change and create new and different ways to live and be productive.

The second time that I sought help, years later, my husband was recuperating from a serious stroke and I was told that his life would be cut short because his stroke was a result of an incurable function in his brain. I could not and would not accept this diagnosis, and I became distraught and angry. The psychiatrist to whom I was referred told me something that I will always remember. He said, " You cannot give him a good life now, but you can give him a good death.” And I proceeded to accomplish that dictate. I made a birthday party and invited all of his friends and mine and the relatives who were close by to a shindig that was worthy of being held for a celebrity. We had a magician who had performed at the White House, a veritable feast of food and everyone brought a humorous gift which made him laugh out loud and enjoy every minute of the party. It was his last birthday celebration but one that he loved.


I kept working for awhile and had a housekeeper who could drive him anywhere he wanted to go, but after several months, he asked me to leave my job, get rid of his caretaker and assume her role. And that is what I did — without any hesitation. My depression had increased significantly, and now I was directed to take prescriptions that would help me address the crisis I faced. When my husband died, so did my spirit, my ambitions, my thoughts for a happy retirement with my beloved mate of 45 years. My depression was at its highest level, and I remember just sitting on my couch waiting for the sun to set so I could sleep the days away. I know that others who have lost a loved one are much stronger and my weaknesses made me feel more depressed.

After more than a year, and with medication and regular talks, I was able to rejoin society, albeit a very different person. I can tell my story without feeling any guilt because my feelings, although more intense, were normal. So, I did not suffer any stigma or disgrace. And that is how everyone should look at our champion tennis player. What has made her depressed is something that we do not need to know, and the help she will seek is none of our business. We should all wish Naomi Osaka well and others like her. Depression doesn’t define us, and like any other illness, we hope that, with the good medical help that is available, she will be able to do what she does best in the foreseeable future.

Alice L. Haber, Frederick

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