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January 20, 2016
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

NFL’s Brandon Marshall and Borderline Personality Disorder: Blocking the Stigma

January 20, 2016 08:36 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

After entering the NFL in 2006, Brandon Marshall quickly began to establish a name for himself in football. Entering into the league as a Denver Bronco, Marshall ranked 3rd among NFL wide receivers in reception and was the 9th player in NFL history to have at least 100 receptions in back to back seasons (2008-2009). In 2009, he set an NFL record for 21 receptions in a game and went three consecutive years with 100 or more receptions. He was nicknamed “The Beast” for his physical prowess on the field. While Marshall’s performance on the field was celebrated; his off field behavior was a growing concern. Marshall’s career has been marred by arrests for behaviors that include DUI’s, domestic violence, brawls, and assaults.

In 2011, Brandon Marshall was stabbed near the abdomen by his wife after an argument. At the time, the police reported that his wife stabbed him in self-defense (Farrar, 2012). Later, the two reported that he was cut by broken glass. While Marshall never disclosed full details, he admitted himself into an outpatient program at Mclean Hospital in Massachusetts for mental health treatment. After undergoing neurological and psychological evaluations, Marshall was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Unlike many people with mental illness, Marshall openly acknowledged the disorder with a press conference in July of 2011. He reported that his “life was spiralling out of control".

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder can be characterized by unstable moods, frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, unstable relationships and impulsive and reckless behaviors. Many therapists depict BPD as one of the most difficult disorders to treat. Patients can be manipulative, hostile, aggressive, refuse to talk and are prone to storming out of treatment threatening suicide. Treating BPD can be exhausting and can lead a therapist to burn out.

While BPD can be treated through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) developed by Marsha Linehan (1978) has been the most studied form of treatment and the most effective. DBT combines cognitive behavior therapy with radical acceptance and mindfulness. Marshall appeared to grasp the concepts of the treatment modality. During the press conference in July of 2011 where he announced that he had BPD, he verbally shared the techniques that he learned while attending treatment. One that he named, radical acceptance, taught him to accept the world as it is as well as others (Farrar, 2012).

Standing Against The Stigma

Since leaving treatment in 2011, Marshall has become an advocate for BPD and began Project Borderline. Project Borderline is a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise the awareness of BPD and fight the stigma associated with the mental illness. The organization strives to advocate and bridge the gap between patients, clinicians and the public. Marshall stated that he desires to be the “face of BPD”. In addition, Marshall began filming a documentary shortly after finishing the program at Mclean Hospital. The documentary titled Borderline Beast tells of Marshall’s journey with BPD.  Marshall’s openness about his struggles may be a powerful step in ending the stigma associated with mental health. Because of the stigmas, many people including athletes may not reveal the need for treatment. Often times, athlete’s deviant behaviors are not addressed until it becomes public and potentially damaging to the team. Marshall’s courage in publicly facing his difficulties has paved the way for others. He argues that many people especially NFL players suffer in silence with mental illness. Former NFL player, Davone Bess, was diagnosed with depression after being arrested and released from the Cleveland Browns. His relationship with Marshall ignited his honesty about mental illness and facing trauma from his childhood. Marshall indicated that Bess’ story is a case of workplace treatment for mental illness and the need to remove barriers and stigmatization (Cohan, 2015). Marshall’s public campaign for mental illness has not only reached professional athletes but others as well. In an interview titled, How Brandon Marshall Saved My Life, Megan Armstrong, a senior at the time at the University of Missouri, discussed her bout with depression and suicide. She stumbled upon an interview with Marshall discussing his diagnosis publicly and it changed her life. She felt that she could relate to him and sought treatment (BR studios, 2015).

Moving On

Currently, Marshall appears to be managing BPD without medication.  He doesn’t proclaim that he is cured by acknowledges that he now has the skills to cope with life in a healthier manner. Marshall is a wide receiver for the New York Jets. He has not had an altercation with the police since 2012. He risked his career and livelihood by publicly admitting to having mental illness and it appears to be paying off.


BR Studios, Featured Columnist (2015; October 21) How Brandon Marshall Saved My Life How the Star’s bravery kept one person alive. Retrieved January 20, 2015.

Carey, B (2011; June) Expert on Mental Illness reveals her own fight. Retrieved January 20, 2015

Cohan, M (2015; February 25) The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance. Retrieved January 20, 2015

Farrar, D (2012; November 28) Stronger than Ever. Retrieved January 20, 2015

Solotaroff, I (2014; September 4) The Grind, Pro football and Mental Disorders: NFL Star Brandon Marshall Reveals How He Suffered in Silence. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

While there are a variety of places that offer psychological services, many of these services use a "one size fit all " approach to treatment. Dr. Dawn Crosson provides quality services that are tailored to meet the need of the individual.

Dr. Dawn Crosson has a clinical practice in Harrisburg, PA

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