The U.S. Open will give athletes access to licensed mental health providers, quiet rooms and other services for this year’s tournament, officials announced Tuesday. The U.S. Tennis Association said its new mental health initiative is aimed at “providing best-in-class mental health support to players.”
All athletes at the tournament, which began on August 24 and concludes on September 12, will have access to the services. In a statement, the tennis association said it hopes the initiative will help eliminate the stigma of seeking the help of mental health professionals.
“Our goal is to make mental health services as readily available to athletes as services for a sprained ankle – and with no stigma attached,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, who is leading the initiative. “We will provide an environment that fosters wellness while providing the necessary resources to readily allow mental health care seeking.”
Last month, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing her struggles with anxiety and depression. Osaka, who won last year’s U.S. Open, said she declined to participate in news conferences to protect her mental health. She later opened up about the fines she faced as a result of skipping the media availability.
“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” Osaka wrote in an essay for Time Magazine last month. “In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms-frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones.”
Osaka will begin her journey for a potential third U.S. Open title on Monday.
“The issue of mental health awareness has been brought to the forefront over the course of the global pandemic, as many individuals, players included, have struggled with the stresses and emotions that have come as a result of COVID-19,” Stacey Allaster, the tennis association’s chief executive, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We look forward to seeing how the initiatives implemented at this year’s tournament, and in the coming months, make an impact on player wellbeing, and will continue to look for ways to improve and adapt as we move forward.”