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Being borderline: Marsha Linehan and Brandon Marshall

March 21, 2012
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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We psychiatrists have an ethical prohibition called “The Goldwater Rule”. This states that we should not try to diagnose someone without examining them as a patient. For patients in treatment, confidentiality prohibits us from sharing their diagnosis publicly. When Barry Goldwater ran for President of the United States years ago, some psychiatrists publicly claimed that he had some sort of psychiatric disorder that would disqualify him from being President. Our profession was roundly criticized for allowing this kind of statement.

Marsha Linehan should be well-known to most of us in behavioral healthcare. She developed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), the first really successful treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But it was indeed a surprise to most of us when she stated in a front page New York Times article (June 23, 2011, Expert in Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight) that she herself had the disorder.

On the other hand, unless you are a pro football fan, I doubt you had heard of Brandon Marshall. He was unexpectedly traded from the Miami football team to my beloved Chicago Bears on Tuesday, March 13. And the local, and even some national, sportswriters had a field day, so to speak.

On Thursday, March 15, the Chicago Sun-Times sports pages headline exclaimed “Baggage Claim”, and in much smaller print: “Brandon Marshall, the newest troubled Bear”. But, I wondered, what kind of “troubled” was he? Was he the common football player in a most violent game, where violence occasionally spills out into their personal lives, sometimes aided and abetted by substance abuse, or, was this something else, like the rare occasion when a football player says they have a “Social Anxiety Disorder” or even “Multiple Personality Disorder”, to name two, but who say little else?

Inside that same Sun-Times was the accompanying article, “Identifying trouble spots” by Rick Morrissey. He described several incidents of Marshall’s aggressive behavior toward others, and one where his wife was accused of stabbing him in return. Marshall was nicknamed “The Beast”. This reporter contrasted him with the attention that had been paid the past year to football player Tim Tebow, whose public prayer after football success was often viewed as virtuous. “The Beauty”, if you will.

However, the other Chicago daily paper, the Chicago Tribune, usually less sensationalistic, took a somewhat different slant on the same date. Yes, the Tribune went into his violent past in even more detail, but in their featured articles, titled “Marshall flawed”, they not only mentioned that Marshall publicly held a news conference last July to announce that he had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and was starting treatment, but in a hard-to-notice section on the bottom of one page, even went on to describe what this disorder was, stating simply that it was a mental illness that leads those who suffer it to struggle with relationships, mood control, and emotions. That’s correct.

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...