On Monday night one week ago, Miami Dolphins star wide receiver Brandon Marshall was in New York, going one-on-one with Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis on national television.
But this Monday night, Marshall was going head-to-head with a very different demographic—Harvard students, whom he spoke to about his personal experience with borderline personality disorder.
Marshall, a two-time Pro Bowler, was diagnosed with BPD at Boston’s McLean Hospital in July, three months after he was allegedly stabbed in the stomach by his wife, Michi Nogami-Marshall.
The athlete underwent three months of treatment and therapy at McLean, where he said he learned to cope with the mental illness, which is marked by instability in relationships, self-image, mood, and emotion.
After hearing a student express admiration for Marshall’s willingness to speak openly about his mental illness, Paul J. Barreira, director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling at Harvard, invited the NFL star to speak to undergraduates about his disorder. He said Marshall accepted immediately.
The receiver’s speech, titled “Mental Illness Isn’t a Game Stopper,” addressed his experiences with BPD, which he said prevented him from appreciating his life.
“I lived in a bubble,” Marshall said. “I became unattached, unemotional ... The things that made me relevant or successful were the things that began to ruin me. It got to the point where it consumed me, it took over me, it controlled me.”
Marshall, in his first public speech on his disorder, explained that treatment at McLean, which included dialectical behavior therapy, taught him how to turn off his emotional “switch” by not bottling things up and that a “lack of expression equals depression.”
As an example, Marshall explained that when unhappy with the Dolphins’ playbook before the Jets game last week, he was able to talk through his displeasure with Nogami-Marshall rather than letting his anger get the best of him.
“It was truly a blessing to be around people that understood me, that spoke my language, that could help me,” said Marshall, who added that he still Skypes with his doctors during the season. “The treatment gave me the opportunity to live again, to enjoy life, enjoy my successes.”
In his introduction, Barreira cited a recent study that found that 44 percent of Harvard students who felt they needed psychological counseling didn’t ask for it because they didn’t think it worked.
Marshall said that was the type of statistic he was trying to fight against, explaining that he could relate to the stress and pressure undergraduates felt during their daily lives.
“Please use my experience and take the good out of it,” said Marshall, who was presented with a personalized Harvard football jersey by Crimson captain Alex A. Gedeon ’12 after the event. “If you might need help, get help, and if its your friends and family, inspire them as well ... You’re not blessed unless you’re a blessing to others.”
Attendees also viewed a clip from a documentary currently in production that depicts Marshall’s struggle with BPD, which he said he hopes will help others cope with mental illness. The receiver said he got the idea to turn his experiences into a film from his wife, who, while being put into a police car after her arrest in April, told him, “Someone will learn from this.”
Marshall added that his speech at Harvard would be the final scene in the documentary.
The receiver said his long-term goal would be to use his celebrity to become a face of mental health and to try to break the stigmas that accompany it. With his voice starting to crack, he said that without treatment, he would probably be out of the NFL and divorced.
“God is good,” Marshall said. “He answered my prayer just in time.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.