Halimah Yacob has 'great respect' for Naomi Osaka, urges 'full support' for those with mental illness

Halimah wrote that Osaka had done the right thing, and sent a "strong signal" to millions struggling with mental health issues that it is okay to walk away from a toxic and stressful situation.

Lean Jinghui | June 06, 2021, 02:34 PM

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Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, 23, kickstarted a global conversation around mental health when she pulled out from the French Open last week.

The four-time Grand Slam champion announced her withdrawal on social media, citing mental health issues.

Fans, professional athletes, and celebrities alike, including Michael Phelps, Will Smith and Serena Williams, showed their support for her.

"Great respect"

On Sunday, June 6, President Halimah Yacob spoke about the issue in a Facebook post.

In her post, Halimah wrote that she had great respect for Osaka.

She added that it must have been difficult for Osaka to make the decision at the prime of her career.

Halimah said that in doing so Osaka had done the right thing, and sent a "strong signal" to millions struggling with mental health issues that it is okay to walk away from a toxic and stressful environment in spite of temporary setbacks.

Halimah wrote:

"Protecting your mind for a lifetime use is better than having it scrambled by the present apparent success or achievement that is actually toxic for you... There is no shame in having cancer or a heart disease, but the fear of people laughing at you or calling you crazy is just too much to bear."

Full support needed in all situations

In her post, Halimah urged for constructive, uplifting conversations at home, schools and the workplace.

She wrote:

"Mental illness is the most complex and extremely difficult illness to understand.


With proper treatment many will recover, and will not progress to the major complications such as schizophrenia or bipolar or severe depression.


In all situations, the family and society must extend their full support.

We can weather this pandemic together by showing a lot more empathy, care and kindness to those in our family and others in the community. Always start with ourselves. Treat others like how we would like to be treated ourselves. "

Halimah also sent her well-wishes to Osaka, and others in a similar predicament, adding that she had "great belief in the strength of the human spirit".

You can find the full post here:

What happened

Osaka had stated on social media last week that she would no longer be doing any press conferences during the Roland Garros French Open.

She expressed that this was to protect her mental health.

Roland Garros then made a statement in response, asking Osaka to reconsider her stance.

They also issued Osaka a USD$15,000 (S$19,867) fine for not honouring her "contractual media obligations".

They wrote,

"We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences.

As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions."

Following the fine and threat of expulsion, Osaka withdrew from the tournament.

Osaka wrote that she had never imagined or intended for this situation, and had withdrawn so that everyone could get back to the tennis in Paris.

"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly."

She explained that she has suffered long bouts of depression since 2018, and had skipped the press conference to exercise self-care as she was feeling vulnerable and anxious in Paris.

She also claimed that she had privately written in to the tournament to apologise.

Osaka wrote:

"I'm gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Image via Halimah Yacob/Facebook and Getty Images