Sen. John Cornyn Urges Colleagues To Seize “Magic Moment” While NFL Star With Borderline Personality Disorder Describes Life As Living Hell

john cornyn at cpac

(5-6-16) “How does a family member get the cooperation of a loved one who happens to be mentally ill?”

Senator John Cornyn (R. Texas) posed that question during a recent U.S. Senate Committee on Finance hearing entitled Mental Health In America: Where Are We Now?

He raised it after explaining that he had read my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, and had been intrigued by how difficult it was for my family to get help for my son because he didn’t think he was sick and didn’t want to take medication that had helped him. I had no idea that Senator Cornyn, who invited me to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, would mention my book or our struggle. It was very kind of him.

While other senators talked about how difficult it was for families to access help, Sen. Cornyn added that compliance also is an issue that must be addressed. He mentioned the effectiveness of Assisted Outpatient Treatment and he specifically talked about how jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums.

Cornyn reminded his colleagues that Congress is currently considering several bills, including his — the Mental Health Safe Communities Act of 2015, which calls for expansion of Crisis Intervention Team training, jail diversion and mental health dockets. He urged his fellow senators to take advantage of what he described as a “magic moment” in Congress by taking their different bills out of their individual committee “silos” and working together to get a consensus bill passed.

As Senator Majority Whip, Cornyn wields tremendous clout and having watched him several times at hearings and listened to him speak, I am impressed by his commitment to getting legislation passed this session, his call for non-partisanship,  and his sincerity in wanting to stop the use of jails and prisons as de facto mental facilities. Sadly, partisan bickering and game-playing continues to threaten a consensus, especially during an election year. Here is a link to the committee hearing. Senator Cornyn’s comments begin at 1:46:49.

At that same hearing, Linda Rosenberg told the committee that “we know what to do” to help most people with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.  We just aren’t doing it. Linda is president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health and a former colleague of mine on the Corporation for Supportive Housing board. She also is also one of our nation’s leading experts on the financing and delivery of mental health care in America. In her testimony and during questioning, she eloquently gave no-nonsense practical advice.

I also was delighted that the committee heard from someone with lived experience. Former NFL Receiver Brandon Marshall described how borderline personality disorder made his life and career “a living hell” until he got help. Here’s an except of his impassioned testimony.

My name is Brandon Marshall – father, husband, son, friend, a man of faith, wide receiver in the NFL, and co-founder with my wife Michi Marshall of the nonprofit PROJECT 375.

Our mission is to end the stigma surrounding mental illness, fostering open dialogue that encourages people to recognize symptoms and seek help. As a public figure, my actions have been in the spotlight for years, both on the gridiron and off.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011. Before then, as many people may know, my life was a living hell.

Yet I didn’t know why.

It was hard to control my emotions and manage my life effectively, and the situation was only magnified by the tough-it-up culture of football.

For me, the tipping point came when I became so isolated and depressed that I stopped talking to my wife and family. I descended further and further, but it simply felt like the new normal.

What the tabloid headlines said wasn’t the true reality of my suffering – the isolation and depression were.

Finally, I was persuaded to visit McLean Hospital near Boston and got evaluated in a supportive environment where I felt people actually understood me. Just getting the diagnosis made me feel 50 percent better.

And getting the right treatment plan transformed my life.

Why did it take so long to get help?

The biggest factor was the stigma surrounding mental illness. I saw how ashamed others felt.

This was what motivated me and my wife to launch PROJECT 375.

The journey I went through was difficult. I wanted to help others take that first step, the hardest one to take….

Going public was hard. It’s no less hard for others struggling with undiagnosed mental illness.

In football there’s stats – lots of them. People obsess over the stats. My fans can rattle off mine. Here are three:

I hold the record for most receptions – 21 – in an NFL game.

I’m one of only five players in NFL history to have at least 100 receptions in three seasons.

I hold the NFL record for most Receiving Touchdowns in a single Pro Bowl game.

In the realm of football, those numbers are impressive. But there are other stats that should make more of an impression on everyone here today. Here are 10 of them:

1 in 3 people will experience a psychiatric disease in their lifetime.

Over 60 million Americans are afflicted by mental illness during any one year.

The suicide rate has risen over 24% since 1999, making mental illness one of the only illnesses that has seen an increase in mortality rates.

An estimated 17 million youth in the U.S. live with a psychiatric disorder, more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, affecting close to 18% of adults in the U.S.

Among the 20 million American adults who experience a substance use disorder, more than 50% have a co-occurring mental illness.

Nearly 8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

People who suffer from PTSD are 9 times more likely to experience issues of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence.

Mental illness is associated with increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy and cancer.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, while awareness of mental illness is increasing in the U.S., there is a worsening shortage of psychiatrists.

One silver lining: Many Americans do not understand that common mental illnesses can be successfully treated most of the time, including a 70 to 80% success rate for treatment of depression…The stigma surrounding mental health issues is our last great fight on this frontier.

Talking about my BPD was liberating, but it was also scary – because of the stigma. I could have lost everything. Every time we release a video, send a tweet or publish a post, we hear from people who were inspired to finally take that step forward, to seek help, and to share their story.

We need to provide health coverage for brain Illnesses in the same way we would any other physical illness or, in other words, treat the brain like we would any other organ in the body, making “Check Up from the Neck Up” part of routine exams, so we normalize treatment of mental health and addiction. We must accept mental illness as a disease, and like any other disease, it needs better research, screening and funding. We need better recognition of new therapeutic treatments that are proven to work. We need more robust education in schools, the enlightened support of news and entertainment media, and the advocacy of high-profile figures, like myself, willing to step forward.

None of this happens if we still remain silent about these issues! As an NFL wide receiver, I’ve caught hundreds of passes during my career. Today, I’m throwing one, to you.



About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.