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New Seahawks receiver Brandon Marshall beats society's stigma of mental health

News Tribune - 6/1/2018

June 01--RENTON -- RENTON

Brandon Marshall stood tall, even taller than his listed 6 feet, 5 inches.

In his Seattle debut practice, he stood over all but one of his new team's 11 other wide receivers as he caught passes from Russell Wilson. After the workout on his first day as a Seahawk, the six-time Pro Bowl receiver spoke slowly and confidently. He listened to questions as thoughtfully as he answered them. He spoke of the "honor" of having "champions" as new teammates in Seattle. He talked of his chance at age 34, following two surgeries since October, to prove the rest of the NFL is wrong is thinking he is finished as a player. The New York Giants gave up on Marshall last month. They waived him during his recoveries from toe and ankle surgeries instead of paying him his scheduled $5 million in 2018.

But nothing Marshall said or did made him seem larger, meant more to him--and, he hopes, can potentially mean more to others--than his response when I asked him why he has chosen to take on our society's stigma over mental health. He's done that though revealing interviews, essays and his nonprofit organization, Project 375.

"That's easy," Marshall said.

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Then he told a story that is hard.

The veteran of 172 regular-season games in the NFL, of six 100-catch seasons among his dozen years in the league for five previous teams, was diagnosed in 2011 with borderline personality disorder. That illness is known for causing impulsive behavior, wild mood swings and problems in relationships.

In 2016, ESPN reported Marshall and Sheldon Richardson, then two of the Jets' biggest stars, had a loud "verbal altercation" in New York's locker room following a game.

In 2014 while Marshall was playing for the Chicago Bears he defended himself against allegations surrounding his arrests on suspicion of domestic abuse and misdemeanor battery in his early NFL years of 2007 and '08.

In 2009, his Denver Broncos suspended him during the preseason for insubordination. That was weeks after he was acquitted of a misdemeanor battery charge in Atlanta. Prosecutors there had accused him of beating his then-girlfriend.

In 2008, the league suspended him for three games for his domestic-violence issues. An appeal dropped the suspension to one game.

"We talked about my past, and you see it from from afar, you can say, 'Man, that's a troubled guy. What's going on?'" Marshall said this week. "Sometimes when you approach things with curiosity you can see that there's something else there. You can go a little deeper and say, 'Wow, that guy needs help.'"

So finally, seven years ago, after a then-record $47.5 million contract from the Dolphins and then his flame out in Miami, this guy got help. Marshall parked himself inside McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., not for days or weeks but for months. The NFL star sat down with people for all walks of life for group mental-healthy therapy in Boston's western suburbs. He got individual therapy there, plus an array of cognitive and emotional tests.

Marshall wasn't just helped. He was wowed.

"I was so in awe when I was at McLean Hospital," he said Wednesday at Seahawks headquarters. "I spent three months in an outpatient program there. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I was in DPT, dialectical behavioral therapy."

DPT is a cognitive behavioral treatment emphasizing mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.. The therapy was developed by University of Washington PhD Marsha Linehan.

Marshall admiringly calls her "the great Marsha Linehan that's out here in Seattle, a prominent figure in our community. ... Saved so many lives."

Including his, Marshall believes.

"I was in cognitive behavioral therapy. I was in mentalization. I was in self-assessment," Marshall said. "I had a neurological assessment to look at my brain, to see if I was capable of change. I did a clinical evaluation, to see what was going on in my life and if I had a diagnosis."

He did. And through it, the Pittsburgh native and superstar athlete with fame and money got something priceless in 2011: a new life.

He and his wife Michi are raising 3-year-old twins. They met while they both were attending the University of Central Florida in the mid-2000s. His wife is the daughter of a clinical psychologist, and Michi Marshall earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and criminal justice plus three certificates from UCF.

"The reason why it was so amazing to me and I knew I had to do something was because within a month and a half, things I was struggling with for years I felt 100 times better," he said. "I couldn't believe there were treatments out there and doctors out there that could make that big of a difference that quickly."

The Seahawks did all their background work before giving Marshall a try out early this month and then signing him this week. They don't care they were essentially the only one of 32 NFL teams interested in him.

Pete Carroll is as interested in and impressed by the person Marshall's become while in the league as he is that Marshall is 6-5. Or that in 2015 Marshall became the first receiver in league history with six 100-catch seasons in a career.

"To follow Brandon's story, he has been through a lot. And he has shared his story with a lot of people in the way he has done it," Seattle's coach said. "It has been a meaningful journey, really, from where he was way back when to where he is today. He has come a long ways, and I think it's all to his credit and his wife and family that have supported him.

"He is a tremendous young man, and he has learned from those lessons and he has shared it with the world. I think that's probably part of the process for him that's made him strong. I admire the heck out that.

"We get him now. We get him as he is now. And I'm not really concerned about what has happened in the past at this time, because he has worked his way through it and been very open about that."

This, of course, isn't a story only about Marshall.

Mental Health America is our nation's leading community-based nonprofit organization over 100 years old dedicated to the needs of Americans living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of the U.S. population. Mental Health America estimated in its report "The State of Mental Health in America 2018" that one in every five Americans has a mental health issue. That is an estimated 40 million people, more than the populations of Florida and New York combined. More than half of those affected have a concurrent substance-abuse issue.

The report found 56 percent of citizens in this country needing mental health care don't get it. An estimated 9.6 million Americans think about suicide.

Marshall talks knowingly, openly, about his mental-health past and treatment in hopes of raising awareness of those numbers, of improving life for some of those 40 million people who could use the help.

As Marshall cautions, "everybody's case is different. There's some people that have different things that they deal with, and their recovery is different.

"But I was in awe in the fact that I sat on my couch for a whole month, and I had a hoodie on, couldn't talk, wouldn't talk, and insulated myself, dealing with depression," Marshall said, "and a month and a half later, I'm at a hockey game watching the (Boston) Bruins, I'm at baseball games eating a hot dog, drinking a beer--I'm not a big beer drinker, but I tried it--and I'm smiling, I'm high-fiving people I don't know. Sitting in coffee shops having conversations with strangers.

"That was the most amazing thing for me."

So this perhaps final NFL go-round with the Seahawks, this low-risk, one-year contract for around the league veteran minimum salary plus up to a potential $2.1 million, including incentives? That's secondary to the life Marshall says he has turned around. And to the other lives he wants to help U-turn, too.

"When I first got into the league (with Denver in 2006), I was a football player. I didn't understand how big of an opportunity this was and much of a blessing this was," he says of being in the NFL.

"I'm not patting myself on the back--but I am patting myself on the back: From where I was in 2006 to where I am now, I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the husband that I am. I am proud of the father that I am, the leader of the nonprofit that I am, the teammate that I am.

"It's my job to be reliable and dependable. Every, single day."

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(c)2018 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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