Toronto Blue Jays Closer Roberto Osuna Opens Up Important Mental Health Discussion In Baseball

Roberto Osuna is taking time away from the Toronto Blue Jays in order to take care of his mental health. Why should we be paying more attention to this?

One of the things that baseball does well in its history is lead the societal movement on an issue. However, the reaction to the revelation by Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna will take some time away from the team to address mental health concerns has re-iterated the large strides that the game is behind society in the acceptance of and discussion around mental health.

By no means am I saying that society at large has progressed to a positive point in mental health overall. Simply turn on the coverage after any horrific mass shooting, and you’ll quickly hear some terrible takes on mental health that anyone working within the mental health field simply finds deplorable.

However, society at large has moved to the point where someone who is working with mental illness can take time off for their mental well-being and face no repercussions in the work place and face no need to disclose such. Most insurances have coverage of basic therapy covered similar to getting a yearly physical, as it’s a healthy thing for someone to address mental stress and anxiety through therapeutic means.

Yet, when someone discloses that they’re taking time off for anxiety, there are tweets out there like this one:

Poor Past History

Earlier this month, one of the first major “stars” to bring mental illness to the forefront of baseball and give a chance to be ahead of the societal work in the field left us when former Boston Red Sox player Jimmy Piersall passed away.

Piersall brought out the discussion of bipolar disorder, a severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI), that has been believed to affect 10 million Americans. Instead of attempting to work with Piersall and assist him in managing his illness, he was frequently berated and put into a poor light due to his antics when he was manic.

Piersall played in the 1950s and 1960s, yet when players like Zack Greinke and Dontrelle Willis came pubic with their struggles with social anxiety disorder, most of the discussion was embarrassing at best and shameful at worst. Full articles were written discussing why Greinke or Willis could never handle certain media markets or pressure situations, showing complete lack of knowledge of the disorder and an obvious lack of desire to learn more about it before opining on the topic.

Multiple excellent players have mental illness that they are actively working through, many of which we will never know about. High profile players like Joey Votto and Zack Greinke who do discuss their mental illness are consistently asked if they’re now “over” their struggles.

Real progress will be when Osuna does return that his time away isn’t treated as a negative toward his future potential in the game nor his future earning power in arbitration. It would also be a positive step to see Osuna not get questions on a frequent basis for the next half decade asking if he’s “over” his mental illness – not something you ever “get over”, but something one receives proper treatment, sometimes including medication, to manage the illness, not get over or move past anything because that is simply not how mental illness works.

For an excellent way to review mental illness and baseball, and the approach of the game to the wide-ranging field of mental illness (among other poignant topics), I would suggest Stacey May Fowles’ book Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me, a book that discusses many things inside the baseball culture along with mental health, including Fowles’ own mental health battles.

I’d also encourage all to take a look at former CTTP writer (and excellent freelance baseball writer), Stacey Gotsulias’ tremendous article from 2012 on the history of mental illness in baseball.

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