Osaka, Biles’ stance speak up for mental health - GulfToday

Osaka, Biles’ stance speak up for mental health


Naomi Osaka. File

A sound mind in a sound body, is a maxim attributed to the Greek philosopher, Thales, of sixth century Before the Common Era (BCE), and it has been assumed that it is true. It looks like that no one checked it out. The maxim has its own merits in very many ways. But it seems that it is not holding up after a lapse of 2,500 years.

There have been two instances in the last few months when sportspersons withdrew from competition saying that they were not mentally prepared.

It was Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis star, who pulled out of the French Open tournament after she refused to comply with contractual obligations and go through the post-match press conference because the exercise stressed her out and left her in a bad state of mind.

And this week we witnessed the American artistic gymnast with the highest tally of medals in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the World Championships pulling out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics finals because she felt that she would not be able to sustain the mental strain.

Both these instances highlighted what has been known for a long time but that many were afraid to acknowledge as a problem – mental wellbeing. It was indeed courageous on the part of these two young stars to have stepped out and acknowledged the problem of mental health. Not many dare to do it.

And by doing so, they have shown the way to millions across the world that it is perfectly normal to be unwell mentally, and to seek medical help in the same way that we turn to doctors for illnesses of the body. 

For centuries now, and in every society, mental illness, which was known by different names, but mostly denoted madness, had a stigma attached to it. Mental illness was considered abnormal.

As a matter of fact, in modern psychology, abnormal psychology became a specialised field of study. If you are mentally stressed out, and you fell into depression, it was treated as a breakdown of the person. And it seemed that there is no way back to a normal state.

This myth has been broken now. It has become clear that as in the case of the body which goes through illness, gets cured and recuperates, so does the mind as well. And as it is considered natural and normal for the body to fall ill, and there is no stigma attached to it, the mind too can fall ill, and it does not mean that it is the end of the road. The mind can be healed too, though the mode of medication will be quite different from that of the body.

Another important aspect of the issue of mental illness is that it can happen to a person at any age. Osaka is 23 and Biles is 24, and it would generally be argued that young people should not have problems of mental illness nor of bodily illness.

But the truth seems to be that you can be strong in body – Osaka and Biles are at the height of their physical fitness – but the mind is sensitive and frail.

There is greater need to pay attention to mental stress because it the most readily ignored.

The conventional approach to the problem of mental stress is that it is all in the imagination. Indeed it is in the imagination, but the imagination is an essential aspect of mental life.

If you feel that you cannot take it mentally, then you cannot take it. Osaka and Biles by opening up about their mental stress made it a normal experience.

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