NEWARK — Zac Clark, winner of Season 16 of ABC’s “The Bachelorette” and founder of the Release Recovery Foundation, paid a visit to Sean’s House at the University of Delaware on Thursday to talk about mental health and substance abuse among men and youth.
During filming of the show in summer 2020, Mr. Clark opened up to its national audience about his history with depression and addiction. Two months ago, he celebrated a 10-year milestone of sobriety.
“I always knew that I had a passion and a purpose, like once I came out of my own struggles, it became very clear to me that I was going to try and help as many people as I could,” Mr. Clark said Thursday. “There are a lot of people out there that are struggling, so if you can take a couple extra minutes here and there to give some words of encouragement, it can go a long way.”
Sean’s House is named after the late UD men’s basketball captain Sean Locke, who lost his battle with depression in 2018. The facility, on West Main Street, is an extension of the UnLocke the Light Foundation, which is dedicated to providing resources to young adults ages 14-24 who are struggling with depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
Mr. Clark’s Release Recovery Foundation, founded in 2017, is a nonprofit that provides scholarships to individuals who suffer from mental illness and/or drug addiction.
During his visit Thursday, Mr. Clark addressed a stigma that prevents many men from coming forward and admitting they are having mental health problems.
“I think we grew up in a world where we’re taught that ‘tough’ means not talking about it,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than having that inner guilt, knowing that you should be sharing about something or asking for help and just not being able to.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national suicide rate is significantly higher in men than it is in women. In 2017, the suicide rate in females aged 15-24 was 5.8 per 100,000 and 7.8 per 100,000 for women ages 25-44. In men, it was 22.7 per 100,000 for ages 15-24 and 27.5 per l00,000 for ages 25-44.
“If you have a heart disease, you can go to your doctor, and they’ll give you some medicine, tell you to lose 20 pounds, and you’ll probably be OK,” said Mr. Clark. “But I can go to a therapist, and they can tell me all the things to do, and there’s still a chance that this (depression) is too powerful for me.”
He added that conversations about mental health are becoming more normal for men, as professional athletes like NBA player Kevin Love and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps publicly open up about their struggles.
He also said that “the power of running” has become a useful tool for him. Thus, Thursday morning started with a mile-and-a-half run around campus with about 150 runners from the community, either joining for small distances along the way or pushing through with Mr. Clark from start to finish.
“I got a couple minutes where it was just him and I running side by side, talking about running and how he just ran a marathon and I did a half-marathon a few years ago,” said Samantha Sullivan, a UD senior. “I come from a family where mental health is prevalent, so I just really like what (Mr. Clark) stands for and how he uses his platform.”
Mike Bassler, a clinical outreach representative for Ashley Addiction Treatment in Maryland, works with the Release Recovery Foundation and joined the runners Thursday. He also will be partnering with Mr. Clark next month at the New York City Marathon. Mr. Bassler said he and Mr. Clark share similar backgrounds.
“My story is very similar to Zac’s, being in recovery, and it’s kind of hard to not want to talk about this stuff with people that might have the same issues,” he said. “But the turnout for this event was great, so if that’s a sign of things to come, that is exciting.”
At least 500 people came to Sean’s House to listen to Mr. Clark speak. Though not every attendee participated in the run, he said the UD crowd blew the crowds at similar events in New York City “out of the water.”
Bridget Hallett is a recent UD grad and recently became a peer leader at Sean’s House. She lives there to handle overnight emergency calls.
The facility recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, and Ms. Hallett said events with public figures like Mr. Clark are helping it gain traction and get the word out to more young adults.
“Sean’s House isn’t just about mental health. It’s about substance and alcohol abuse, too, which is prevalent on college campuses,” she said. “When you see somebody else being vulnerable, it allows you to open up, as well. It’s good hearing from somebody who’s been through it and is on an equal playing field. That in itself is super-welcoming.”
Mr. Clark said that driving through UD’s campus brought back memories of his own time in college, when he was in a position where he needed to ask for help.
“I was playing baseball, and I was drinking four or five nights a week, partying my ass off,” he said. “There was no time to sit down, and there was no way I was showing up on a Thursday morning to come run anything.”
A lot of his work now is centered around addiction. He said that in his own life, he was using drugs and alcohol on a daily basis to cope, and even after 10 years of sobriety, he still faces scrutiny.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Once a crackhead, always a crackhead,’ and telling Tayshia (Adams, his wife), ‘Run away from this guy because, like, he’s an addict,’ but I worked really hard to get to where I am today, and I’m gonna hold on to that,” Mr. Clark said. “Just keep moving forward because those people are going to be old news soon.”
Release Recovery has three locations: the flagship men’s recovery center in Westchester County, New York, along with one in Manhattan and a women’s recovery center, also in Manhattan.
Sean’s House is open 24/7 for emergency support and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for walk-in peer support.