Throughout Mental Health Month, we are focusing on ways to empower individuals to “light their way” to better mental health, happiness, and improved well-being. As part of this celebration, we are profiling “Mental Health Warriors,” individuals who have been outspoken in their advocacy and support for mental health issues. Today we caught up with famed NFL wide receiver, mental health advocate, and founder of Project 375, Brandon Marshall.
Talkspace: You have been open about sharing your experience with having Borderline Personality Disorder. Thinking back, at what point did you realize you had an issue?
Brandon Marshall: It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I realized something was off. I had made it to the NFL, but my life had become a living hell. After living in my own hell for six years, I finally sought help and ended up at McLean Hospital in their outpatient program. I spent three months there and that’s where I received the diagnosis of BPD. Once I got the diagnosis, I started doing Dialectal Behavioral Therapy as well as some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It was the most phenomenal experience and it changed my life.
TS: How has therapy been a tool in helping you manage BPD?
BM: BPD is really complex. It can manifest itself in hundreds of different ways, but it’s also one of the most treatable disorders out there — if you get the right help. So for me, those months at McLean Hospital were huge. I learned so much about myself and was able to get back on track.
Now my therapy is on an as-needed basis. But I know now who I am and what I need. For instance, I know that faith and meditation are really important to me. And so is a good environment — being surrounded by healthy people who understand me, validate me, and support me.
It’s also important to note that you’re never cured. You can learn to manage it, though. I know when something is off or when I’m having a bad day. When this happens, I know what I need to do. I now have the tools and skills to self-regulate.
TS: You’ve co-founded Project 375, a nonprofit devoted to busting stigma around mental health and helping facilitate care for those in need. How did you go from a BPD diagnosis to founding a mental health nonprofit?
BM: It was easy for me. I think we all have a purpose and half of our lives are spent searching for that purpose. It was at McLean that it was revealed to me. I was halfway through the program when I realized that this is why I’m here. I am here to help bridge the gap in the mental health community. That’s also when I realized that football was only my platform, not my purpose. My purpose is to help kids and those who suffer.
TS: How did stigma affect you before your diagnosis?
BM: Before my diagnosis, if you were to ask me what mental health meant, I would have said it’s mental toughness. I was on the other end of the spectrum at the time, where I thought the right way to handle issues was to keep them in, to mask them, to never show your weaknesses. But in reality, the way you get healthy is to open up and be vulnerable to others and yourself. So I finally realized I was doing it all backwards.
TS: What message do you have for kids who have been diagnosed with a mental illness?
BM: You are not your diagnosis.