Monday, August 1, 2011

Borderline personality disorder ... mental health in sports news? Yes, we're excited!

So, I'm hanging out with my S.O. yesterday, and I see him reading some sports news. Meh, no big deal, I think ... I'm not usually excited by A&M's football prospects or which hitter has the best RBI. But then, out of the blue ... a public health article sprouts up in the sporting world that has nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs or nasty ACL injuries. Yep, it made for a great Sunday.

Here's the scoop: Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall went public with his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (article here). For those of you who aren't mental health experts, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by the following:

1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

2) a pattern of unstable & intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation

3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self

4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

7) chronic feelings of emptiness

8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

9) transient, stress related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms

(More information from a DSM summary here)

The most important part of this whole situation is that Marshall is making his struggles with BPD public. BPD may not be on many people's radars as far as important mental health issues go, but that doesn't matter. What excites me abot this article is that a ridiculously successful (Pro Bowl anyone?) professional athlete is unabashedly admitting to a relatively severe mental illness.

The message? It can happen to anyone.

As more and more people come forward to share their struggles with mental illness, the stigma and hype surrounding such conditions will begin to wane. This is why I am always so forward about my struggles with depression and an eating disorder; by making these things a secret, I would be playing into the social expectations of guilt and embarrassment about my mental health. I'm so happy to see high-profile folks like this coming forward to help fight for the cause.

I do feel terribly sorry for Marshall; even with practically unlimited resources, he's continued to struggle with this difficult condition. This article, however, highlights another important point about mental illness that we can scarcely afford to forget:

A man with nearly unlimited resources at his disposal still struggled immensely with mental illness.

Not only do mental illnesses not discriminate ... they also require specific, individualized treatment plans and a lot of dedication to overcome.

This is particularly salient in light of the recent health care reforms, which have re-opened the debate about insurers' responsibility to those of us who suffer from mental illness. If recovery is even difficult for a man with access to so much care, what can we expect for those with health disparities? The dearth of mental health services for all Americans is inexcusable; although the physical maladies may present themselves with more clarity, mental illnesses are also fatal diseases. We can't ignore the implications that mental illnesses have for overall improvement of care.

So, a big THANK YOU to Brandon Marshall for "coming out" as someone with a mental illness! Here's to shattering more norms!

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