The popular Nickelodeon children's show iCarly ran an episode a week ago called "iLost My Mind." One character, Sam, checked herself into a mental institution because she and another character, Freddy, kissed. She thinks she has lost her mind because she kissed Freddy and when Carly and Freddy find out where Sam is, they try to break her out.
When I heard the episode would air, I sent an email to Nickelodeon expressing my concern of the impact such a show has on our society and kids. It increases the stigma against mental illness and it is also a risk to children who see it and will be too ashamed to ask for help if they are struggling with mental illness. I did not get a reply from Nickelodeon and neither did the other people I know of who sent similar emails.
My seven year old son and I actually really like iCarly and watch it together often so we watched this episode together to see what it was like. He is well aware of my bipolar disorder and the realities of mental illness, not the cultural misrepresentation of it.
After the show I asked him "How did you think the show made people with mental illness look?" He said "It made them look stupid."
Then I asked him "How do you think a kid with mental illness might feel after watching that show?" His eyes got wide and he said "They would feel really bad."
I get very frustrated when our society makes fun of people with mental illness. I am appalled though that a children's show would add to the stigma. The mental institution in the show is dirty, the "patients" either walk around like zombies, think they are from the future, speak as multiple people, or wear gas masks. The signs on the wall of the common room say thing like "Urine is for the Restroom," "Biting is for Food," "Don't Kill You're Friends," and the game area sign says "Don't Eat the Pieces."
For all those who think the show is just a comedy and does not negatively affect kids or their view of the mentally ill, just look at my son's response to the show. I remember my reaction to shows like this when I was little because at just six years old, I knew that there was something wrong with my brain. Seeing shows like this and hearing people make fun of those with mental illness made me ashamed, scared, and unwilling to ask for help.
I hope Nickelodeon listens to the many emails people sent in expressing concerns over the show. I hope they are inspired instead to create a public service announcement for kids that mental illness is just that, an illness, let them know where to get help, and gives them hope that they can get better.
This episode was highly anticipated by children and youth everywhere, and received over 5.5 million views on it's "world premiere" day.
Here is the best link I could find to the episode:
If you would like to contact Nickelodeon about this episode, you can email them at Nickprivacy@nickonline.com or: (212) 258-7579.