NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall hopes to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness by coming forward with his own personal struggles.
In 2011, the star found himself at Mclean Hospital near Boston, where he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
“I didn’t have the skill set or tools a healthy person would have to self-regulate when something was off,” the 33-year-old told PEOPLE when reflect on the volatile behavior that led to his diagnosis.
Despite suicide being the third leading cause of death among Black men ages 15-24, Marshall says he was reluctant to seek help due to the added pressure of being a football player.
“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 says of his Southern 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.”
Marshall, with the help of his wife Michi, has dedicated his life to dissolving the stigma of mental illness. And he hopes to do so through the Project 375 foundation, which funds no-cost training for Mental Health First Aid, an 8-hour course that helps people to recognize the warning signs of mental fragility.
“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,” Michi says. “It’s difficult to say ‘I need help. I am suffering.’ ”
To date, more than 1 million people have gone through the program’s training.
“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,” Michi says. “There’s no better platform than being an NFL player to do that and we are blessed to be able to use it.”