Rasheeda Bhagat

It’s perfectly okay, if the mind caves in

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on August 02, 2021

Naomi Osaka Bold stand   -  REUTERS

The spate of sportspersons talking about their mental well being has brought this long-neglected issue to the fore

Japanese tennis champion Naomi Osaka created waves when she pulled out of the French Open in June after being fined $15,000 and threatened with expulsion from the tournament, when she refused to attend a mandatory post-match press conference.

Citing “social anxiety”, the 23-year-old had said the media’s manner of asking questions impacted her mental well-being. She pulled out of Wimbledon to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, where she was eliminated in the third round.

In a recent Time magazine cover story, the tennis star wrote a moving essay on how ‘It’s ok to not be ok”, where she says that one lesson life has taught her is that “you can never please everyone.” Grateful for the messages of support that poured in, including from Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Novak Djokovic, Meghan Markle, etc, Naomi says that athletes are “human” and have the right to take “a mental break from media scrutiny” on their personal medical history. She seeks both privacy and empathy from the media.

Making a plea for a few “sick days a year”, as allowed in any job, she says she is no expert on ‘athlete mental health’, adding poignantly: “I do hope that people can understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it.”

The ‘twisties’

Close on the heels of Naomi’s decision, came the American gymnast Simone Biles’ withdrawal from Tokyo Olympic events. The four-time Olympic champion said she is struggling with the “twisties”, a condition where gymnasts lose the ability to orientate themselves in mid-air. She has been documenting on social media her struggles with mental health during the Games.

The kind of pressure sports puts on mega stars is well known, but it is only now that people are talking about it openly. A few days ago Ben Stokes, an English cricketer, only 30, announced an “indefinite break” from all cricket to prioritise his mental well-being. He will not play in the oncoming Test series against India.

We’ll have to wait and watch if these decisions of sports personalities to focus on their mental health have been triggered by the Corona pandemic, which has put the spotlight on depression and mental health.

What is heartening is that it was two leading female athletes who decided to prioritise their mental health over the glory that prestigious world sports events promise. In effect, they have taken the bold decision to say ‘No’. There is no denying that these are highly educated, privileged women, empowered enough to take far-reaching decisions. But still, this is a beginning, which is bound to pull out of the closet issues related to depression and mental health.

Actress Deepika Padukone took such a bold decision a few years ago when she decided to speak out about her battle with depression. When celebrities like her or a Osaka or Biles open their hearts out and admit that they are indeed facing mental health issues, they give hope to millions battling with depression, but are hesitant to talk about them, thanks to the associated stigma.

But alas, not all women can take control of their lives. In the Indian context in particular, it is common to read about parents “marrying off” their daughters. The Mirriam Webster dictionary gives the meaning of “to marry off” as “to dispose of in marriage”. Most often than not, we find this term being used when the reference is to daughters. Sadly, in our social milieu, in so many homes, the daughter remains a burden to be disposed of.

While this may be a sad reality in 21st century India, where the falling gender ratio causes real concern, pointing to female foeticide in large numbers, should we journalists continue to use the term “married off” in reports from the ground, analyses, commentaries?

The same issue of Time magazine with Naomi on the cover, has an in-depth article on commercial surrogacy in India. Anand, the milk capital of India, has the dubious title of being “India’s baby factory”, housing female surrogates. While telling the stories of two such surrogates, the writer says, in different places, that they had been “married off” at 16.

Published on August 02, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like