Let’s talk about mental health.
I bet a bunch of you just cringed, or felt your pulse skip. I bet you would rather do just about anything besides talk about mental health, but too bad, because that’s what we’re here for.
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna announced he would be unavailable for today’s game in Kansas City, saying, “I just feel a little bit anxious, a little bit weird. I’m just not myself right now. I feel great physically. It’s just more mentally.”
His team has respected his need to take a short break in order to speak to someone about how he’s feeling. Osuna elaborated that the issue has nothing to do with the game, “This has nothing to do with me being on the field. I feel great out there. It’s just when I’m out of baseball. When I’m not on the field, I feel just weird and a little bit lost.”
While the Blue Jays have been supportive, the internet has bared its cruel teeth, with so-called fans claiming this break makes Osuna “weak” and suggesting he should just shut up and pitch, that it’s his job. I won’t repost any of the tweets, there are plenty of them and I don’t feel it’s necessary to make the posters a target, nor to spread their hateful rhetoric. There are plenty of people out there who also call players weak for sitting out games for thumb blisters or strains. People who imply that these men are paid a lot of money to go out and perform for a viewing audience.
I have another perspective.
These are human beings, who are under a huge amount of pressure to perform for 162 games a season as precision athletes. They play through injuries constantly, they go out day after day and do their jobs when a team isn’t winning, when “fans” bombard their social media accounts with the most vile commentary, and they don’t complain. They work.
Mental illness is no different than a physical ailment. It can impact performance, it can augment how a player operates. For Osuna to admit he needed help, especially when the game and its fans can often treat mental illness as an excuse, is incredibly brave. His openness is admirable and rather than lashing out and calling him weak, people should be applauding the strength of character it took to acknowledge that something was hurting him.
What’s more, Roberto Osuna is a 22-year-old young man from Mexico. He delivered his statements through an interpreter. He is a young man, living in a place where very few people around him speak the same language, and the expectations of a team rest on his shoulders. The sense of alienation he must feel at times would be enough to crush many of the people throwing insults at him. For some insight into what Latino players feel when they come up to the majors, please read the ESPN Beisbol Experience piece.
Mental illness is very real, and anxiety is not an excuse for a “weak” player to get out of doing his job. Osuna is miles from being weak, and what’s more, he’s not alone in his struggle. It’s estimated 40 million people in America suffer from anxiety disorders (According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.) Anxiety can also manifest itself physically, beyond the “anxious” feeling and can lead to serious illnesses like heart disease and a higher instance of substance abuse. It’s not a joke. It’s not something to be ignored.
With so many people suffering, what hurts the most is reading all those insidious comments online. Roberto Osuna can ignore them, he can focus elsewhere. But with 40 million sufferers, it’s a guarantee that every person posting dismissive and nasty comments about anxiety and mental health knows someone who suffers. There’s a friend or family member reading those comments and all they’re seeing is a reason to stay quiet. To suffer in silence.
So, let’s talk about mental health, because there is nothing weak about admitting you are suffering. There is nothing weak about asking for help.