Former Nickelodeon stars open up about mental health struggles, addiction issues following show's end: 'It was so bad'

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of alcohol use disorder, eating disorders and disordered eating, and mental illness and mental health struggles. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

The former Nickelodeon child stars from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide started a podcast in January during which they watch episodes and talk about behind-the-scenes antics from the show’s 2004-07 run. Aptly named Ned’s Declassified Podcast Survival Guide, the podcast and its co-stars, Devon Werkheiser, Lindsey Shaw and Daniel Curtis Lee, have racked up millions of listens by tapping into the nostalgia factor.

Ned’s Declassified chronicled the titular Ned (Werkheiser) navigating middle school with his two best friends, Cookie (Lee) and Moze (Shaw).

The cast, now in their 30s, take the opportunity to share how they navigated growing up, especially as part of a popular Nickelodeon show. In the podcast’s Sept. 13 episode, Lee and Shaw revealed how they both ended up in psych wards following the finale of the show.

“Do you guys want me to bring up my 5150?” Shaw initially joked. “5150” is the section number of the Welfare and Institutions Code that allows an adult experiencing a mental health crisis to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization.

“I got 5150’d too once,” Lee responded. Lee later clarified it was not a 5150 since he wasn’t in the ward for three days and was allowed to leave whenever he wanted, but his parents had been the ones to call 911 to get him help.

“Wait, really?” Werkheiser asked. “Dude, this is actually shocking.”

Lee explained he was on a raw vegan diet and was losing weight so rapidly that he said he started to hallucinate. According to the National Library of Medicine, there have been cases in which someone who lost weight quickly can experience an “altered mental status” that can include hallucinating.

Doctors define hallucinations as “a false perception of objects or events involving your senses,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. While hallucinations are typically a symptom of a larger psychosis disorder, commonly for schizophrenia, it is possible for people to experience them in temporary situations without their being a sign of a larger mental problem.

Lee said he also experienced paranoia during that time.

“It got to a point where I could not be in my house because I thought my neighbor was recording me,” he said. “I was in this really dark place [mentally] on top of the raw vegan diet.”

Shaw, however, had properly been 5150’d and was not allowed to leave.

“I overdosed,” she said. “I had been taking Adderall all day, drinking tequila from the bottle. … I blacked out for two days.”

Shaw added that she combined the Adderall with some Xanax and other “miscellaneous” pills from other bottles. She said she only found out she got her stomach pumped days later when she read a hospital report. Adderall is a stimulant, and when mixed with alcohol and Xanax, which are both depressants, it can be particularly dangerous and lead to overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Six months later, it happened again to Shaw.

“I got my dog taken away from me for three months,” she said. “It was because I was drinking in public, and the cops came up on me and were arresting me for that, but I said, ‘God, f***ing take me, f***ing take me.'”

The officers, concerned Shaw was suicidal, checked her in to the psychiatric ward.

Werkheiser, who had dated Shaw after Ned’s Declassified, said that even after they broke up he made a point to check in with Shaw every so often. During one of those check-ins, which Shaw said was a week before her first 5150, Werkheiser said he could tell something was wrong.

“Some of those times I’d see you and I could just feel the f***ing pain and chaos,” Werkheiser said to Shaw. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Shaw has been open about her drug addiction, alcoholism and poor relationship with food in prior episodes of the podcast. In one from July, Shaw claimed that her Adderall addiction was what led her to being fired from Pretty Little Liars in 2014.

“It was so bad. I got called into the Pretty Little Liars creator’s office,” Shaw told Lee and Werkheiser. “And she was just like, ‘So, we’re gonna let you go.’ She’s like, ‘It’s not because of your acting.’ She’s like, ‘But do you have anybody to talk to?’ And I was like, ‘Um, no.’ And she’s like, ‘Well find somebody, and we have to let you go for now.'”

In a 2020 interview with the Women on Top podcast, Shaw said that she spent the following two years in Arizona focusing on her sobriety. She said she has been sober since.

A number of child stars have gone on to grapple with addiction issues later in life, like Lindsay Lohan, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, Full House‘s Jodie Sweetin as well as child actors who were contemporaries with the Ned’s Declassified cast, like fellow Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes and Disney Channel actors Demi Lovato, Zac Efron and Shia LaBeouf.

Jennette McCurdy, who was on the Nickelodeon show iCarly from 2007 to 2012, said in her memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, that she felt pressured to drink alcohol on set and called her childhood and adolescence in front of the camera “very exploited.”

Cole Sprouse, who co-starred with his twin, Dylan, on Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and its spinoffs from 2005 to 2011, said making himself take a break to go to college was the best thing he could have done for his mental health.

“When you’re a child actor, you’re a minor, and so a lot of the larger business decisions that are controlling your career are outside your agency,” he told Variety in 2019. “One of the dangers of, at least in my position, which was a sitcom inside a sound stage for nine years with Disney Channel, you’re raised in such an insular environment that you forget what real human experience or boots-on-the-ground actually looks like.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or mental health concerns, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the NAMI website to learn more about signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an alcohol use disorder, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357 for resources or visit the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can also search for local programs and therapists through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism online navigator.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the NEDA website to learn more about the possible warning signs of eating disorders and disordered eating.

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