By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
In 2011, current New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, then with the Miami Dolphins, was a patient at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Massachusetts, where he was receiving treatment for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. He sat in group sessions listening to the stories his fellow patients were telling of their struggles and was enveloped by sadness.
Then one day he looked out at the parking lot and surveyed all the cars. In that moment, he didn’t see the cars, he saw the people who were driving them. People like himself who were struggling with a variety of mental illnesses and disorders. And he realized there were thousands, if not millions, of others out there struggling in silence like he once had. In that moment he knew he needed to take action beyond himself. That was how he made the decision, together with his wife, Michi, to start his foundation, Project 375.
“That burden overtook me,” Marshall said. “I’m always looking for other things that I can pass along to other people. When I was at McLean I heard all these stories from people in the program. People were suicidal. There was this one moment that I will never forget, we were in self-assessment and one girl tried to commit suicide the night before. One woman had bandages and there was blood coming through them. I was listening to these stories and felt so sad. I went outside and looked at all the cars and looked at them as patients and how many are going to take off into society like everything’s OK and how many people are out there and are suffering in silence.”
Marshall himself had struggled and suffered in a variety of ways. Although he began a successful NFL career after being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2006 it was not smooth sailing. He recalled 2010 when his status was uncertain and then in spite of it all being reconciled when he signed a lucrative contract with the Dolphins, things inexplicably got worse, not better.
Finally he received a professional evaluation and the diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder, which put him on a better road. He described what someone with his condition can experience.
“Someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, their feelings, and the things they’re going through are valid, but they way they cope is a struggle. We don’t have the tools to regulate our emotions to get to baseline.”
Marshall’s symptoms didn’t manifest until adulthood, but he believes that the environment he was in during his youth may have had a significant impact in exacerbating his condition.
“I come from a rough area. It was volatile, it was invalidating and you pick up some those negative traits,” he said. “Our world is so interconnected. You can’t go through this life alone. You have to be able to live with people, talk with people and interact with people and I wasn’t able to do that. I wasn’t able to sit down and work through issues. I didn’t see it growing up. I didn’t see people talking and working issues and compromising.”
Project 375 has several goals the first of which is to remove the stigma from mental illness. “This is the last big stigma in our country,” he said. “We’re where the HIV and cancer communities were. We have to galvanize the community and change the narrative so it’s an everyday conversation.”
The foundation also works to raise awareness, along with funds and works to get government to enforce regulations that require insurance companies to cover mental illness treatment in the same manner as physical illnesses.
The impact of the cost is something Marshall finds critical to focus on. He acknowledges that he is one of the few who was fortunate enough to afford the balance of the cost of his treatment, which he was shocked by. “It cost me $150,000,” he said of his three-month stay in the hospital. “That’s ridiculous. Insurance only covered 10%. We need to start enforcing some of the legislation we have in place. Mental and physical health are supposed to be enforced the same and they’re not right now.”
Now Marshall has taken that burden he felt at McLean and, armed with newly acquired skill-sets with which he navigates his own life, turned it into positive action where he can help others.
For more information on Project 375: www.project375.org
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.