Childhood icon fills McAlister for mental health talk

Eladia Michaels and Ethan Moran

This Monday, Tulane students and members of the general public stood in a line that stretched from McAlister Auditorium to Freret Street to listen to one of their childhood icons talk about mental health. 

Jennette McCurdy is well-known for playing Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon shows “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.” However, with the release of her new memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” McCurdy has turned to college campuses to spread and destigmatize talk about mental health awareness. McCurdy’s book describes her early career and rise to fame but also poignantly highlights her own struggles with mental illness as a child actor.

Shivani Bondada

“The conversation around narcissistic parental abuse is the most important aspect in the memoir that would resonate with the audience,” McCurdy said to the Tulane audience.

Tulane University Campus Programming Direction Chair Ally Koeppel stated that McCurdy’s career shift into writing and advocacy is what inspired them to book her at Tulane. 

“So many students have known her from the time that they were so young and looked up to her and seen her as a figure that they admired,” Koeppel said.

Psychology Professor Carrie Wyland moderated the conversation. Koeppel said that Wyland was chosen to moderate the event in order to steer the conversation toward positive mental health advice for Tulanians.

Wyland began the conversation by asking McCurdy what compelled her to write her memoir. “I know what would be entertaining about it and what would be worth people’s time about my story versus what was just meant for the therapist’s couch,” McCurdy said. 

Wyland spoke about the way humor exists in a place with deep and hard emotions and experiences while McCurdy acknowledged the balance of coping with trauma.

“Whenever I’m going through something really hard … There’s something about the heaviness that really calls for some levity. I think life would just be devastating without it,” McCurdy said. “I definitely used to have that kind of sensibility where I just make fun of things and can be really flippant.”

McCurdy said, “I really struggle with understanding my emotions. And it said that having the judgment, having anger toward the emotion gets you stuck in the emotions.”

McCurdy reflected on her experiences with therapy, especially in relation to her mother. “I had shared anecdotes of my childhood, and one in particular was where my mom taught me anorexia … something about when I was sharing these anecdotes with my therapist … I could feel myself trying to justify and excuse my mom’s behavior,” McCurdy said. She explained that her experiences in therapy initially made her uncomfortable.

She proclaimed that her therapist told her that she was describing abuse. After hearing that, she quit therapy because she thought “if therapy means taking my mom off the pedestal, I don’t ever want therapy.”

Like many struggling college students, McCurdy didn’t realize the toll her mental health was taking on her life. 

“It took me literally losing a tooth in an airplane bathroom to be like, ‘oh, I think I need help’… It really took an intense, intense life or death situation for me to realize it. You know, I passed out on a friend’s bathroom floor from dehydration,” McCurdy said. “These signs were all there for so long, but it took months, years for me to really accept that.”

When Wyland asked her if she sees herself as a mental health representative for this generation, McCurdy shared some concerns: “There’s so much focus on it in a trendy way and when anything gets too trendy, I get really worried about what’s going to happen down the line for like three years from now,” McCurdy said. “I’ve never thought of myself as any sort of, I guess mental health advocate, but I’ll gladly take it.”

Mccurdy shared her frustration of being identified as her childhood character throughout her youth, “I hate being known as Sam,” McCurdy said in her memoir. “I feel like that show robbed me of my youth.”

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