Venus Williams becomes latest athlete to open up about mental health struggles

·3-min read
Venus Williams reveals being
Venus Williams said being 'tough' is looking after your mental as well as physical health. (Getty Images)

The mental health of female athletes has been under the spotlight in recent months, after Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles opened up about their experiences.

Now, Venus Williams has revealed her own struggles at points during her stellar career, as she explained that being "tough" is taking care of your "whole self".

In a piece for The New York Times, the tennis star, 41, recalled how it was her mother Oracene who instilled in her, at age 14, the importance of looking after your psychological as well as physical wellbeing in order to "thrive".

Williams wrote that just like anyone else, she has faced "mental health challenges resulting from the inevitable setbacks and uncertainties of life".

The tennis star said years of
The tennis star said years of 'thinking holistically' helped her cope after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. (Getty Images)

Williams — who has won seven Grand Slam titles — said: "It doesn’t matter who you are... you can’t divorce mental health from anything you do. It impacts your physical wellbeing, your decision-making, your ability to cope with difficult moments."

The sportswoman explained that, along with her sister, fellow tennis pro Serena, 39, she was taught to "fight harder than other players to get the respect we deserved" and that for a long time she had thought that's what being "tough" meant.

She said that she was "lucky" to have her sibling — on a very similar trajectory — there to support her through testing times, noting: "Admitting you're vulnerable is no joke. It isn’t easy to ask for help or confide in people about having emotional struggles".

Williams also revealed that years of "thinking holistically" about her health had helped her cope with being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjogren's syndrome, in 2011.

Naomi Osaka revealed earlier this year that she had
Naomi Osaka revealed earlier this year that she had 'suffered long bouts of depression'. (Getty Images)

The most common symptoms of the condition are fatigue and dry mouth or eyes, but sufferers can also experience muscle aches and joint pain.

Alluding to her psychological struggles during this period, Williams said: "I also sought out mental health professionals to help me see more clearly — not to let my fears distort my reality — and to develop my ability to learn to stay in the moment."

She concluded by stating that caring for her all-round wellbeing is "the thing that has really made me tough".

Her brave comments come after fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka, 23, withdrew from this year's French Open due to her mental health.

Simone Biles cited her mental health as the reason why she had to withdraw from the recent Tokyo Olympics. (Getty Images)
Simone Biles cited her mental health as the reason why she had to withdraw from the recent Tokyo Olympics. (Getty Images)

In a statement on Instagram, the Japanese star said: "The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that."

Then, shortly afterwards, US gymnast Simone Biles, 24, revealed that her mental health wasn't in a good enough place for her to take part in the team final competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

Speaking to NBC at the time, the four-time Olympic gold medalist said: "Physically, I feel good. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment."

She added: "Put mental health first, because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to."

Watch: Celebrities reveal their mental health struggles

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