Mental health is something that's still incredibly stigmatized, no matter who you are. Opening up about anxiety or depression can be really hard, and many people still face judgment when they reveal they're struggling. But when that person is a professional athlete, it can be even more difficult for them to admit that their mind feels like their own worst enemy sometimes.
That's why it's such a huge deal that the Toronto Blue Jays' closing pitcher, Roberto Osuna, is opening up about his current struggles with anxiety. Fans became suspicious that Osuna may have been injured last Friday when he failed to appear in the game when he normally would have, watching from the bench as pitcher Jason Grilli blew a three-run lead in the 9th inning. After the game, Blue Jays' manager told reporters, “He wasn’t feeling well tonight. That’s all you need to know." Needless to say, speculation about what could be wrong began.
The next morning, Osuna told reporters that he didn't really know how to explain it, that he just "felt anxious" and like he was "lost a little bit right now," according to ESPN. Osuna said the issue wasn't when he was on the mound, but when he was off it, adding, "I wish I knew how to get out of this, but we're working on it, trying to find ways to see what can make me feel better."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. And yet, people are still reluctant to talk about it. The issue becomes even more complicated for men, especially men who are athletes, who are fighting against toxic masculinity and stereotypes about what it means to be "masculine" and "tough." Those ideas can be even more stringent for Latino men (Osuna is Mexican).
The fact that Osuna felt comfortable enough to open up to his manager — and then the public — about his mental health struggles is a big deal, and represents a positive trend in major league baseball. Last year, Red Sox pitcher Brian Johnson was sent to Florida for treatment after revealing that he was struggling with anxiety and depression.
Johnson returned to the team this season and thew a complete game shut out, which he credits with the fact that he was able to seek help, telling CSN New England, "If I didn't say anything, I don't think there's any chance I'd be here playing baseball. And it is taboo... the reason it took me so long was because [I thought], 'If I say something, they're never going to trust me again.'" But, he says, the fact that he was honest about his struggles meant that the team trusted him even more.
As Dirk Hayhurst writes in his book Bigger Than the Game, "You just don’t talk about your emotions . . . baseball players don’t do that." But Johnson and Osuna are demonstrating that it doesn't have to be that way. Here's hoping that Osuna's courage inspires more people — athletes and fans alike — to open up about their own challenges and get the help they need.
As a testament to his resilience, just a few days after disclosing that he wasn't sure when he'd be able to pitch again, Osuna took the mound. He's proving to be an inspiration for who he is both on and off the field.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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