What Nike Is Doing to Normalize Conversations About Mental Health

On Monday, tennis star and Nike athlete Naomi Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open citing mental health reasons. The move comes after she announced last week her decision not to speak to media during the tournament to protect her well-being. This then led to the predicted $15,000 fine for deciding to skip a press conference after her first-round win on Sunday, but also harsher threats from Roland-Garros.

As a result, the No. 2-ranked women’s singles player made the decision to withdraw from the French Open entirely, announcing that she would also be stepping away from the court for some time. Now, conversation surrounding mental health has ensued.

While some media personalities and athletes do not agree with Osaka’s choice to refuse the mandated press conferences, much of the public is standing by her decision, including her brand partner Nike.

“Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience,” the Swoosh told FN. It is a statement like this — from a powerful entity — that can help move the needle on normalizing the conversation about mental health.

Nike has been an outward proponent for destigmatizing mental health issues in recent years, and in May, the brand teamed up with Crisis Text Line with the goal to advance the conversation around the importance of mental health and expand the direct line of support to those in need. For those looking to talk to a trained crisis counselor, the partnership offers free, 24/7 counseling via text messaging. (You can text STRONG to 741741 at anytime.)

“Talking about mental well-being is the first step,” Crisis Text Line’s Chief Transformation Officer, Dr. Shairi Turner, said during a call with Nike’s Media Miles virtual run club last week. “Mental health is a team sport. Asking for help is strength, positive and it should not be stigmatized.”

What is most poignant, she said, is that mental health or physical health does not have to come to an emergency to tend to it: “If you’re having mild episodes of anxiety or sadness, it’s OK to reach out early and often. Be there for yourself.”

Dr. Turner also joined Nike’s senior performance director and host of the Nike Trained podcast, Ryan Flaherty, during the talk for a conversation around how to overcome mental health challenges.

“With athletes, they are constantly put on these stages with pressure and anxiety is really high. Because of social media, there’s constant talk about your performance in real time,” explained Flaherty, who has spent his career training athletes on the mental side of sport to help them better understand what it takes to perform at high levels. He said training your mind to be your strongest muscle is key to not only succeeding as an athlete but for anyone looking to live a better life.

Part of that is looking into the mind-body connection, added Dr. Turner.

While they may seem obvious, exercise, nutritious food intake and sleep are three keys contributors to mood and happiness. “Listen to your body as far as what feels right. If there’s a day you need to rest, that’s OK, too,” she said.

Advice Flaherty suggested when it comes to the relationship between being active and mental health? “Work out because it feels good,” he said. Shifting the narrative to focus working out for mental health rather than physical performance is more powerful than hitting a personal record, according to Flaherty.

“Think: ‘What is my brain getting out of this? [Think about] the outcome of what the impact of the workout had on your mindset, on your happiness,” he said.

For those looking for more insight, listen to Nike’s Trained podcast, featuring Flaherty as he sits down with experts of holistic wellness, including athletes and their trainers, physicians, psychologists, researchers and more.

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