Conferences & Events / Faculty & Staff

Lifting the Image of Those With Mental Disorders

Neil Bockian, Psy.D. Professor of Clinical Psychology

Neil Bockian, Psy.D. Professor of Clinical Psychology

Neil Bockian, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Adler School in Chicago, directs its concentration in primary care and behavioral medicine psychology. A practicing clinical psychologist, he is the author of three books on personality disorders, as well as numerous scientific presentations and publications. 

On May 12, the Adler Counseling Student Association welcomed NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Louie Carrera, CEO of the Brandon Marshall Foundation, to the Adler School’s Chicago campus. ACSA presented Marshall a check for funds raised to support the foundation in its work supporting those with mental illness. Marshall discussed his experience with borderline personality disorder, and his foundation’s work. Dr. Bockian closed the evening with this presentation:

What is courage? Surely, Brandon, you display courage on the football field. Anyone who catches a ball in the middle of the field in the NFL, waiting to get tri-fecta’d by a linebacker, cornerback, and strong safety is either brave or crazy, or perhaps both. Fortunately, we’re in a room where we can get several dozen expert opinions on that matter.

There is a different kind of courage, however. It is the kind that former president John F. Kennedy spoke about in his book, Profiles in Courage. The book is about people who did the right thing, despite the risk to their personal and professional reputations. And while risking one’s body is scary, risking one’s reputation is terrifying. One moment, you are a football hero. The next, you could be seen as a mental patient, with all the stigma that entails.

Like it or not, our sports heroes are role models. You, Brandon, have embraced that challenge. You took a big chance, and I’m here to confirm something that I suspect you already know: You are making a difference.

In the minds of those of us in the culture, a professional football player embodies various characteristics that are so strikingly at odds with the stigma against those with mental illness, that one of the images must fall. NFL players are physically strong and mentally tough; they are at the top of their profession, and they are dedicated and determined. Conversely, according to the stigma, people with mental illnesses, such as borderline PD, are supposed to be weak, fragile, unproductive, and unworthy.

In going public, in one fell swoop, you have helped to humanize the players of the NFL, and lift the image of people with mental disorders such as borderline personality disorder. According to Alfred Adler, social interest – the desire to help others and taking actions to that effect – is the highest form of mental health.

Estimates suggest that borderline PD affects about 3 to 9 million people, but I would like to talk about just one. About five or six years ago, I had a client once who was so suicidal that she kept 250 pills of a potentially deadly medication locked away in a safe deposit box, waiting. I believe the fatal dose would have been around 25 pills.

Regarding borderline PD, she said to me, poignantly, “Dr. Bockian – where are the success stories?” And what could I say? Confidentiality prevents us from referring to our clients and former clients in anything but the vaguest terms. Today, I could answer her in just two words: Brandon Marshall.

And so I have a gift for you tonight, Brandon. It is a copy of my book, New Hope for People with Borderline Personality Disorder. The inscription reads:

To Brandon Marshall,
I admire your courage both on and off the field. Your efforts stand to help millions. You have dedicated yourself to helping others, and nothing better can be said about anyone.

Your fan and admirer,
Neil Bockian