Naomi Osaka’s decision to step back from her job for reasons of mental ill health has stirred up a lot of debate in the last two weeks. And yes, it’s great that she is being open about her mental ill health being the reason for this decision.
...But Naomi Osaka is not representative of most people who experience mental ill health during their working life.
The main reason is that, financially, Naomi can afford to take enough time off to recover.
Watch the 2018 US Open trophy ceremony with winner Naomi Osaka and runner-up Serena Williams. Post continues after video.
I don’t point this out to minimise her suffering. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It will make you feel equally s**t whether you are wealthy or not. But the luxury of time off for an employee to recover fully from an episode of mental illness is not one many workplaces will, or even can, accommodate.
This week several experts have stated that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees living with a mental illness, that these employees have a right to time off and to have their work modified to accommodate that mental illness.
I have mixed feelings about this. I feel exasperated, bemused, and tired. Because these earnest, well-intentioned experts have no idea how mental illness and work mix in the real world.
Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast, where host Claire Murphy discusses the Naomi Osaka story. Post continues below.
The first time I experienced mental illness (postnatal psychosis followed by rebound depression) I was hospitalised for close to four months.
‘Luckily’ for my employer I was on maternity leave, so absolutely no thought had to be put into managing my absence, because it had already been planned for.
After I recovered, I continued to work as a small animal vet for another 12 years before taking a break to have my book published.
In those 12 years I experienced a severe Bipolar 1 episode on average every two-to-three years. When I say severe, I mean requiring hospitalisation for weeks or months on end, followed by a gradual re-integration to life outside the hospital.