Sloane Stephens joins White House roundtable on mental health
Over the last 18 months, the importance of mental health—and in particular, the mental health of professional athletes—has come to the forefront of the public conscious. Within tennis and beyond, American Sloane Stephens has been among the most vocal advocates of self-care, and over the weekend, that advocacy took her all the way to the White House.
The 2017 US Open champion joined Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike in a virtual panel on Friday to discuss mental health and wellness in the Black community. Moderated by White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the panel was an activation by the Biden administration in recognition of Black History Month, and tied into this year's broader theme of overall Black health.
Having played her first professional event at 15, Stephens, now 28, has grown up in the public eye. In the discussion, she was candid about the affect that had on her development, and noted what lessons she learned from it for her adult life.
“I think I'm able to recognize, ‘Okay, I’m not feeling well because,’" Stephens said.
"When I was 18 or 19 years old and a professional athlete learning my way through life, I was also juggling millions of people watching me playing tennis every day. It was just unbearable. ... I’m able to manage those emotions a lot easier because I know, ‘Okay, I’m overwhelmed and I need to take a minute for myself.’ I can manage myself easier now.”
Stephens has been particularly open about her struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic after losing an aunt and two of her grandparents to the virus. Last year, she credited her tenure on the WTA Players' Council with cultivating a desire to lean in and support others—“It’s been enlightening and I think made me a better person to just open my eyes and see what’s going on around me," she told The New York Times during the French Open—and now says she hopes to continue to use her platform to lift up those who haven't had opportunities she's had.
“I’m one of those people who now finds it very easy to say how I feel, but I’ve gone to therapy since I was 13 years old,” she said. “My mom is a psychologist, so I’ve had an extreme amount of support, but a lot of people don’t have that. I want people to be able to have that support and not feel judged when they feel something.
“I’m thankful that I’ve been able to share my story and a lot of people have been super supportive of seeing me as myself, as a human and not just 'Sloane Stephens the athlete.' Once people are able to accept that there’s a ‘you’ underneath the athlete or the celebrity, it’s a lot easier to be human."
Watch the panel in full in the video below.
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