Hank Azaria (LA ’87), an Emmy-winning actor, and Joe Schrank, founder of TheFix.com, a website dedicated to disseminating news about addiction and recovery, addressed mental health and addiction yesterday evening in an event co-sponsored by the Dean of Student Affairs Office and Health and Wellness at Tufts. Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon moderated the conversation which was followed by a brief question-and-answer session.
The event gave students an opportunity to learn and ask questions about mental health issues relevant on campus. There were about 40 students in attendance.
Azaria described the role of substances in shaping his college experience, both in Hollywood and at Tufts.
“College, to me, was a place where everyone was a temporary alcoholic. It’s the culture,” he said. “I went in and out of struggling with it. One thing I learned in life is that there’s no shame in asking for help.”
Azaria explained that seeking out a supportive community is critical in helping a person deal with mental health issues or addiction recovery, emphasizing that recovery is not possible without help. He also stressed the importance of destigmatizing mental health.
“I’m here today because I realize how different my life would have been, if when I had been attending [Tufts] … I knew where I could get help if I needed it,” he said.
A significant part of the conversation focused on the intersection of mental health problems and substance abuse. Schrank also spoke about the intense drinking culture in college and the importance of level-headed decision-making.
“The culture of binge drinking is a rite of passage,” he said. “The real problem isn’t in how much or how often you drink. It’s about what you do when you drink.”
Schrank and Azaria explained that for individuals combating mental health issues and substance abuse, the key is recognizing when one needs help and then seeking support. They also emphasized the importance of accepting the validity of emotions, whatever they may be, in influencing one’s well-being.
Azaria said, “Feelings are friends. It’s ok to have feelings. Nothing needs to be done, except to feel it.”
Azaria also said he had enjoyed the freedom he felt while studying at Tufts.
“This was a place [where] I could make mistakes, and it’d be totally ok, whether it be social or academic,” he said.