Presley Ann/Getty Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka wants to put mental health first — for her baby on the way and all kids around the globe.
The mom-to-be and tennis pro, 25, teamed up with Modern Health to come out with a collection of children’s meditations. Each meditation is geared to a certain age group and they are designed to help kids learn about mental health and wellness as the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey warns of an unprecedented youth mental health crisis.
The survey revealed 44% of high school students are persistently feeling sad or hopeless, leaving more than half of parents and caregivers concerned about their children’s well-being.
Osaka hopes to be part of the change, from speaking out about her own mental health to being a resource for other young people.
“As I’ve gotten older, I have really relied on meditation more to help manage my feelings. I wish that I had utilized it more as a kid which is why I’m so excited to have children’s meditations available now kids of all ages ,” she tells PEOPLE.
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Calling the project “really cool,” the tennis star continues, “I love that I am able to help create resources for kids that weren’t available or common when I was a kid. I hope that kids are able to learn how to manage their feelings and emotions at an early age so that they can continue to use these tools later in life.”
The reaction to her openness about her mental health struggles, including her decision to voluntarily withdraw from the French Open in 2021, has already proved to be inspiring.
“It’s always really heartwarming when people tell me that I have helped them with their own struggles. I remember being in a grocery store one time and someone stopped me to tell me how much I meant to them as they were dealing with their own mental health struggles,” she shares. “At the time, I was doing it for myself but I realized that my decision to help myself was also helping many others.”
Kelly Defina/Getty Naomi Osaka
Like other new parents, Osaka wants a better world for her own child to grow and thrive in, and begins that work with herself.
“I would say for me, I just want to be the best version of myself. Obviously, I’ve never been a mother before so I’m taking it day-by-day and just trying to be someone that my son or daughter will be proud of,” she says.
Licensed child clinical psychologist Dr. Sharon Adusei, Clinical Strategy Lead of Outcomes & Quality at Modern Health, tells PEOPLE how significant it is when stars like Osaka speak out.
“As kids and teens develop, they look to be important figures in their lives, some of which can include star athletes, family members and peers. What are these important figures then models for kids and teens about the journey of mental health and how to care for your well-being and emotions sets the stage for what they internalize for their own mental health practices,” Dr. Adusei explains.
“So when emotional challenges arise, as they do for us all, kids and teens are more likely to have a part of themselves that says, ‘What would Naomi say or do at this moment?’ They may begin internalizing more helpful narratives promoted by figures like Naomi such as ‘other kids go through these feelings too, you aren’t alone,’ ” she continued. “Also, when parents support their children through their mental health journey by engaging in activities like meditations together, it can help foster a more positive and engaging environment that encourages building healthy habits.”