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Naomi Osaka and Prince Harry’s mental health struggles are not something to be ridiculed

June 7, 2021 GMT

When a member of the British royal family confessed that he had struggled with aggression and anxiety while carrying out his royal duties, most of the world just brushed it off. When the same prince stepped back from royal life and flew halfway across the world to save his family because the “toxic” British press was “destroying” his mental health, most of the world took it as tabloid news.

Well, “haters gonna hate”, and Prince Harry’s media haters are going to keep at it. In a recently released mental health docuseries, the Duke of Sussex talked openly about his mental health struggles: the panic attacks, severe anxiety, burnout and substance abuse. And, for that, he was called a hypocrite and other not-so-nice things.

The prince probably expected it, knowing that sort of reaction would just serve to reinforce the stories of trauma he has been telling. But to brush off his candour about a difficult subject and dismiss it as “psychobabble” is toxic; to call him “self-pitying” is bullying and harassment.

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And then the world’s highest-paid female athlete and No 2 tennis player, Naomi Osaka, felt she had no choice but to withdraw from a grand slam tournament to protect her mental health.

The Japanese tennis star had been fined for refusing to take part in a press conference after winning a first-round match at the French Open against Romanian Patricia Maria Tig, and was threatened with expulsion from the tournament. This led to Osaka’s announcement that she was going to “take some time away from the court now”.

Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open was, again, a cue for over-the-top media clowns to run onstage and serve up more meanness. Piers Morgan slammed her as “world sport’s most petulant little madam” and the lead sportswriter of The Telegraph criticised her “diva behaviour”. On the other hand, Osaka has also inspired some serious and thoughtful discussions about mental health.

Royals aren’t supposed to be relatable. And a young woman with a mean serve isn’t the girl next door. But it is important to remember that Osaka won the US Open in 2018 in a match marred by boos and tears, and “felt like I had to apologise”.

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She has admitted that her first Gram Slam title “wasn’t necessarily the happiest memory”. In the three years since then, she has “suffered long bouts of depression” and news conferences give her “huge waves of anxiety”.

So, self-preservation and choosing to look after one’s mental health is definitely not “diva behaviour”, and to suggest otherwise is to belittle a human being for being human. Yet, such comments have unfortunately become acceptable. If anyone has failed, it is the tournament organisers who did not step in when the media acted inappropriately and became unnecessarily hurtful.

Survey after survey has shown a mental health crisis is brewing, and is being made worse by the pandemic. In Hong Kong last year, a Mental Health Association study found that nearly 87 per cent of respondents were dealing with work stress, and half the city’s workforce were showing signs of anxiety.

Across the Asia Pacific, working adults are suffering from increased burnout and anxiety. Young people have to deal with not only academic pressure but also the stress of prolonged social isolation during the pandemic.

In the United States, a leading children’s hospital has declared a “state of emergency” for paediatric mental health, with a 90 per cent increase in demand for behavioural health treatment over the past two years ” mostly for children and youth attempting suicide.

This is clearly a global issue that affects people across continents, cultures and generations. Resilience cannot be built when someone is repeatedly ridiculed, or simply sent away with a “get over it” Band-Aid. In the midst of a mental health pandemic, neither belittlement nor apathy is going to help the healing process.

Instead, we can all fight this pandemic with empathy. And it starts with each and every one of us making it a point to be kind and holding ourselves responsible.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.