Canadian tennis pro Rebecca Marino revealed she was suffering from a depression that had been exacerbated by cruel comments on social media when she announced she was stepping away from her sport this week. It takes real courage for an athlete to come forward and put a human face on mental illness, as well as to admit to the hurt one feels when attacked on Twitter and Facebook. We should all be grateful Ms. Marino found that courage.
The 22-year-old Vancouver native was a rising star on the professional circuit and, along with Milos Raonic, part of a promising new generation of young Canadian players. She rose to 38th in the world rankings in 2011. In a 2010 match against Venus Williams, her devastating serve (at 185 km/h, one of the fastest in the game) and powerful forehand prompted Ms. Williams to remark, “Now I know what it’s like to play myself.”
Sadly, the attention her success brought her became too much for Ms. Marino. Cruel taunts and threatening remarks on social media, which would increase exponentially after a loss, got under her skin. A year ago, she took a break from the game and returned home to Vancouver. Then came an attempted comeback, in which she showed steady progress as she worked to break back into the top rankings. But her play wasn’t the issue.
On Wednesday, Ms. Marino admitted she had been suffering from depression for as many as six years. Depression is a terrible and still misunderstood illness, one she kept to herself until recently. It is frankly amazing that she was able to display the mental toughness required to become the 38th best tennis player in the world while suffering from the disease. For six years she bucked up and shut up, which is what far too many people believe is the adult way to handle depression.
Her illness also retroactively explains her sensitivity to her detractors on social media. Ms. Marino has since closed her accounts on Twitter and Facebook, which is the right thing to do in these situations. But how many depressed teenagers who are being cyber-bullied have the wherewithal to simply stop paying attention to the taunts and turn to family for help?
By coming forward and putting her mental well-being first, Rebecca Marino has set an example for Canadians everywhere who may be keeping their depression to themselves. And she showed rare candour in admitting publicly that social media can be a hurtful place even for an adult, which could be inspiring for a teenager staring at a Facebook page full of personal attacks, or one devoid of “friends.”
Ms. Marino’s story is one worth repeating, and we’re thankful she gave us that opportunity.