NFLer Brandon Marshall uses star status to combat mental health stigma

NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall is taking aim at the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“After a couple years of volatile behavior, I found myself at Mclean Hospital (near Boston), where I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder,” Marshall, 33, recently told People of his personal mental health battle. “I didn’t have the skill set or tools a healthy person would have to self-regulate when something was off.”

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death among Black men aged 15-24. Furthermore, approximately 6 million men are affected annually by depression every year — with males 3.5 times more at risk of suicide than women. Still, few that are struggling ever seek help — a reluctance Marshall himself can relate to.

“I definitely think there were signs when I was younger, but I was a product of a very volatile neighborhood with a lot of violence, drugs and unhealthy living,” Marshall said of his upbringing. “What I was dealing with was nothing different than the rest of the kids in school. You have kids with emotional issues, kids with anger issues and kids that have many challenges — and I was one of them.”

That said, Marshall and his wife Michi, 33 — who both hold undergraduate degrees in psychology and criminal justice from the University of Central Florida — hope to raise awareness through their recently launched Project 375 foundation. According to People, the organization funds no-cost training for Mental Health First Aid, among other services.

“Nobody thinks of an African American male who plays football as having mental health issues. There are three things that can hinder someone from seeking help: Being a man, being African-American and being in a machismo sport,” said Michi. “It’s difficult to say ‘I need help. I am suffering.’ ”

Their action plan: transparency. “For him to come out and say ‘I’m Brandon Marshall and this is my foundation to help people not in a position to help themselves,’ is an empowering thing,” continued Michi. “There’s no better platform than being an NFL player to do that and we are blessed to be able to use it.”

“I used to think that mental health meant mental toughness and masking pain,” Marshall added. “I was raised in a community where you didn’t admit to any weakness. As a football player, you never show weakness to your opponent. But when you think about it, connecting with those emotions is the real strength.”

To date, Michi revealed that she’s trained more than 200 adults in MHFA, including school administrators from Illinois’ Manteno High School. “Our focus now is at the high school level. Our goal is to equip every school and leaders with this training so we are better able to help our kids more effectively and efficiently,” Marshall says. “Our training stresses intervention at an early age.”

The pair have also partnered with the National Council of Behavioral Health for a campaign titled, “Be the Difference,’’ which emphasizes that anyone can “Be the Difference” in the life of someone struggling with a mental heath illness.

“It was embedded in me as a kid to never show any signs of weakness,” Marshall said of the PSA which is slated to air on Hulu this month. “But you have to find the strength to pick up the phone and talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a professional, but just call someone and don’t hold it inside.”

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