What Does Naomi Osaka’s Withdrawal from the French Open Tells us about Mental Health Issues at the Workplace

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Health issues in the Workplace are real and it is time employers, employees, and other stakeholders accept it and address the same. Already, the United Kingdom and France, among other countries have legislation such as the Equality Act which protect employees suffering from depression and other mental health issues. While social stigma and fear of losing one’s job keeps many employees from talking openly about their Mental Condition, supportive employers can make the difference between a stressed out workplace and a healthy workplace.

The withdrawal of Naomi Osaka from the French Open because she did not want to address the customary post match media interactions, is to be seen in the wider context of how Mental Health issues spare none, however successful they are and hence, I believe that the French Open organizers were heavy handed as far as the way in which they treated Osaka is concerned. Instead of empathizing with her, they warned of dire consequences, including banning her from the other Grand Slams.

This is not the way to go and instead, what we need is a greater acceptance of the stress on professionals in all walks of life, including superstar sports personalities, some of whom, like Osaka are under heavy pressure to perform. Indeed, given the pressures of modern day life, compounded by the Pandemic, and exacerbated by a rapacious media, hellbent on garnering ratings at any cost, celebrities are more than likely than the average person to suffer from mental health issues. While there have been murmurs of support from the organizers, what we need is a substantial effort to address the root causes of workplace mental health issues.

As mentioned earlier, we need to remove the stigma around mental health and it is only when all stakeholders accept the reality of such issues, then there can be an honest effort to address them. This is especially true in countries like India where social taboos and rigid cultural mores preclude an discussion of mental health in the open and this is more the reason for influencers to begin the conversation. Indeed, as the Indian cricketer, Veda Krishnamurthy said recently, assistance for mental health issues and post Covid Trauma are absolutely necessary.

In my working experience, I saw how mental health issues at the workplace were mentioned in a breezy term, “personal problems”, and any such reporting of stress and pressure on the job, meant being offered “time away from work”. To dismiss an entire spectrum of employee well-being disorders as personal problems neither helps the sufferer, nor the employer, as it is more than likely that such conditions persist, if not addressed in a meaningful manner.

Moreover, the catch all phrase, “mard ko dard nahi lagta” (or men do not feel pain) precludes any discussion on how mental health issues affect everybody and not the women alone. It is telling that more celebrity women report their struggles with mental health rather than men and the only way to redress this imbalance is to start by discarding the stereotypes around them. Indeed, it is almost a sacrilege to openly speak about mental health in both formal and informal settings in Indian workplaces.

When European countries can pass laws mandating employer provided support and monetary and non-monetary assistance for mental health issues, why can’t India follow suit despite social and cultural inhibitors? Moreover, our often revered business leaders must take the lead here and lobby the government and more importantly, address this issue in their firms so that a beginning is made.

There is also a compelling business case to be made for why employers gain when they address mental health issues at the workplace as productivity goes for a toss in an unhealthy workplace and the costs of time away from work, and the disruptions to project schedules as well as the lost opportunities due to key personnel struggling with mental health problems, are all enough reasons for India Inc. to “do something” about these issues.

The offbeat Indian flick, Everybody Says I’m Fine, is a telling commentary on how we sweep mental health issues under the carpet, and hence, the key takeaway here is It is OK Not to Feel Fine, and it is Acceptable to be Depressed and Down in the Dumps at work.


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