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NY Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall envisions AI bringing mental health to the masses

TechCrunch TechCrunch 13/04/2016 Megan Rose Dickey

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall paid a visit to Silicon Valley this week to explore opportunities and potential partnerships with tech companies around mental health issues. Part of the reason for his visit was because, in 2011, Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. He spent three months in an outpatient program and now recognizes that what he went through wasn’t unique.

“They’re universal issues — things we go through just as young adults trying to find ourselves and navigate through the world and with all of the stresses and challenges,” Marshall told me. 

Since his diagnosis, Marshall has wanted to use his celebrity status to raise awareness about mental health issues, which are still, unfortunately, stigmatized in our society. That’s ultimately the impetus for Project 375, co-founded by Marshall and his wife, Michi Marshall. With Project 375, the goal is to raise awareness around mental health issues — something one in five adults in America experienced last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“I always say, football is my platform, not my purpose,” Marshall said. “There’s a unique opportunity where there’s 100 million avid football fans that I can speak to and talk to every single day because they follow football.”

To date, Project 375 has partnered with Chicago Public Schools to offer behavioral health services to all students in the public school system. It has also committed to investing $1 million to McLean Hospital — where Marshall went for an outpatient program — to fund a residential program for young men with emerging borderline personality disorder. Project 375’s current tech-based initiatives include an e-newsletter, an online storytelling platform for people with mental health issues, and some support for text messaging. So, right now, it’s pretty low-tech.

“To be honest, we really haven’t been progressive or adopted technology the way we should have,” Marshall said. “That’s why we’re here now.”

Marshall filled his schedule with meetings at companies and organizations including Facebook, Singularity University, AI mental health startup X2AI and mental health therapy platform Lantern.

“I’m not an expert in tech but I realize that we need tech to solve some of the issues in the mental health community,” Marshall said. “I know people well. That’s my space. All I want to do is help people. I feel like the mental health stigma is the last great stigma in our country and there’s two things I always talk about. One is the intangible, and that’s raising awareness. Where we’re at today is where the cancer and HIV community was 20, 25 years ago. There are also a lot of people out there suffering or suffering in silence. Some of the hospitals aren’t accessible — they aren’t affordable and before I go, I would like to help bridge the gap.”

Artificial intelligence, Marshall said, is what will help bring mental health to the masses, and that’s going to happen through partnerships between non-profit organizations like Project 375 and tech startups focusing on mental health. X2AI, for example, uses artificial intelligence as a tool for psychotherapy. Its first bot, named Tess, can hold conversations with people, provide coping skills and encourage overall emotional well-being. Instead of serving 10 people a day, Tess can serve hundreds. Right now, X2AI co-founder Michiel Rauws told me that the company is looking into how it can work with Project 375. Marshall would also like to partner with the NFL around some of these technologies mental health technologies.

“Before I retire, I want to change the way professional sports approach mental health,” Marshall said. “I want to start with NFL. Some of the technology, I believe, should be part of our employee benefits.”

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