After taking a break from the game, Ash Barty has returned to tennis and is now the number 1 women’s player in the world. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
After taking a break from the game, Ash Barty has returned to tennis and is now the number 1 women’s player in the world. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

What we should learn from the rise of Ash Barty

I was watching an Ash Barty press conference during Wimbledon and what caught my attention was the question around advice for Naomi Osaka, the young Japanese player who seems to have lost her love of tennis.

Barty responded that we're all on a different journey and that what worked for her might not necessarily work for Osaka.

What was clear in Barty's response, though, is that she's a caring young woman who has found a way to deal with the pressures of her workplace with a positive outcome, and feels deeply for her colleague.

Elite sport is a high-pressure environment, so it's no surprise to see more and more athletes from multiple codes finding the need to take a break.

It shows that as a society, we're making progress in putting ourselves and our mental health first.

MORE OPINION: What makes Ash Barty great isn't her on-court performance

And it's not only athletes taking a break, but also singers, actors, public personalities and politicians admitting to needing time away from the high-profile pressures of their work.

Some blame the rise in social media and the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle for the escalation in mental health issues among those in the spotlight.

I see it more as a reflection of society in general.

Right now, we are seeing record rates of anxiety and depression in our workplaces across the country and the western world.

Ashleigh Barty credits taking a break from tennis with her renewed love for the game. Picture: Matthias Hangst/Getty
Ashleigh Barty credits taking a break from tennis with her renewed love for the game. Picture: Matthias Hangst/Getty

Given the pressure to work harder, keep pushing ourselves to the point of breaking, work longer hours and to take work home with us thanks to technology, it's little wonder we are seeing the need for mental health breaks.

It does beg the question, of what our life's highlight reel will be filled up with by the time we sit back in the rocking chair of life. Will it be the two BMW's in the driveway, the bigger house or getting home early from work to spend time with the kids?

Perhaps the accurate measure of life should be making it through with our mental health intact.

For many of us, work begins the moment we step out of bed; checking emails, texts and posting on social media platforms.

MORE OPINION: Ash Barty - a World No. 1 - deserves more respect

By the time we hit the office, we've already worked for 2 or 3 hours. We come home and are back on our devices until the moment we go to sleep and then push repeat as soon as we open our eyes in the morning to do it all again.

Our workplaces are on a precipice as we follow the highly stressed workers of nations like China, Japan and the USA.

Surely, in the 'lucky' country we can strike a better balance.

Why don't we offer 10 mental health days a year on top of the standard sick leave, with all the employee needing to do is to tell their employer that they need a break?

Or even go a step further and reconsider the standard working week, creating a four-day working week.

Would we be brave enough to stop rewarding long hours and try and instead to reward workers who finish on time?

The answer is likely an emphatic 'No', however with mental health costing Australian businesses close to $11 billion per year, it may be time to pull our head out of the sand.

We're seeing the impacts of mental health, with over three to four days per worker being lost each year through workplace stress, with compensation claims for stress having doubled.

MORE OPINION: Golden age of women's sport has just begun

Every dollar spent on identifying, supporting and case-managing workers with mental health issues yields close to a 500 per cent return in improved work output and reduced sick and other leave.

Business owners, shareholders and senior management need to flip the way they view the work of their employees, to stop counting the hours they are at work, and to start counting the hours they are not.

Creating a workplace where they are more invested in the health and mental wellbeing of the worker, as opposed to the focusing only the health of their bottom line.

Let's all take a lesson from the Ashleigh Barty's of the world and evolve our own plan to stay mentally refreshed, as Barty has shown it creates a better engaged and more productive employee, which is a win-win for all.

Paul Spinks is a paramedic, trauma counsellor and mental health advocate.

 



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