Every now and then, Brandon Marshall wonders, “What if?”
What if the topic of mental health hadn’t been so taboo when he was growing up, what if people — in his home, his school, his neighborhood — had recognized the root cause of his behavioral issues?
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“What if there was someone there to recognize that I may have been struggling? How would that have changed my path?” the Jets receiver asked during a phone interview with Newsday on Tuesday.
“But then I quickly snap out of it because you’ve got to understand that it’s a conversation that no one was really having 20 years ago. It’s hard to find people sitting around talking about it now. So I quickly snap out of it and just use that as fuel and motivation to work harder to get this to be a topic every single day.”
Hours before he was set to receive the Champion Award at The Child Mind Institute’s Change Maker Awards in Manhattan Tuesday night, Marshall was on his way to an undisclosed location for a Jets team outing. And while en route, he spoke for nearly 20 minutes about one of his greatest passions: mental health advocacy.
“I believe that this is the last great stigma in our country,” he said. “This is a civil rights issue. You look at our policies, the way our insurance companies approach it . . . If you twist your knee, you’re going to get help, you’re going to get treatment. But if you walk into the hospital and you say, I’m seeing things, I’m hearing things, or I’m suicidal — one, they’re going to look at your like you’re crazy; two, they’re going to tell you, we have nothing for you; and three, when you do find a place, it’s going to cost $30,000 a month and insurance is only going to cover 5-10 percent of that.”
Marshall and his wife, Michi, co-founded PROJECT 375 to help raise awareness and combat the stigma associated with mental health issues. In recent years, he’s seen the conversation expand to wider circles that include celebrities such as The Rock, Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato, who have recently shared their private battles with mental illness in a public forum.
Marshall, who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2011, said he never was suicidal growing up, nor did he ever try to harm himself. But his own experiences with emotional and behavioral issues weren’t “unique.” He noted that many kids don’t have the proper “skills or tools” to cope with every-day stresses.
“And, to me, the etiology behind that is environmental,” said the 32-year-old, who spoke at a Senate Finance Committee hearing titled “Mental Health in America: Where Are We Now?” last month. “You grow up in this place where what you see, what you hear is the wrong way of going about problem-solving and stress management.”
The Change Maker Awards, which is part of the Child Mind Institute’s “Speak Up for Kids” campaign, recognizes individuals and organizations who are creating “real, meaningful change” for children struggling with mental health and learning disorders. But Marshall was quick to point out that his advocacy isn’t “about the accolades or the praise.
“It’s about doing the work and saving lives,” he said.
Though he was asked to keep his acceptance speech under three minutes, Marshall had already given it plenty of thought. “I’m just going to say ‘Thank you,’ I may tell a little bit about my story and then I’m going to end with hope,” he said.
“I truly believe that this is now the topic in our communities and it’s cool that we set out five years ago to start the conversation and in a short time, this conversation has started . . . Although it’s hard work, it’s exciting because everyone now is realizing that mental health is at the root of a lot of our issues.”