Mental health has, thankfully, been discussed more and more lately. But at the time of the publication of Harry Potter, it wasn’t really talked about all that often. If you suffered from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, you had to keep it quiet and work through it on your own. And going to a psychologist or therapist was definitely not something you shared with the public.
Now, that is changing, and many of us who are surviving with mental health issues are able to talk about our struggle in a variety of ways. Throughout my many re-reads of Harry Potter, I started to realize that Rowling approaches the topic of mental health many times throughout the story, and I want to look at a few ways.
The Mind is Multi-Layered
When it comes to the Harry Potter series, the one thing we begin to notice is that the mind is definitely a multi-layered thing. It isn’t incredibly easy to understand, and you regularly see the kids and professors having to deal with all of the layers and still not knowing what to do.
This is definitely made clear in Order of the Phoenix when Harry has to learn occlumency (the magic to make sure the Dark Lord doesn’t have a way into his mind). This doesn’t mean that Voldemort can read Harry’s mind; in fact, Snape makes sure that Harry understands that point in a very Snape-like fashion. As he tells Harry, “The mind is a complex and many-layered thing, Potter… or at least most minds are…”
Sassy Snape aside, I really appreciate how Rowling approaches the mind in this way, showing that it isn’t something incredibly easy to understand. This helps set the tone that dealing with and working through the pain of loss, anger, or even happiness isn’t something that can happen overnight.
Feeling Feels? You Don’t Need to Talk Right Away
Another way Rowling handles mental health is showing that it isn’t always feasible to make someone talk about their feelings or thoughts right away. One thing I’ve noticed throughout the years is how, no matter what, people seem to think you have to tell them what you’re feeling after something bad happens. I’m not the type to talk about my feelings all that much, but especially not before I am ready to.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, Harry and friends aren’t required to talk to each other or an adult about how they’re feeling until they’re ready. Dumbledore often knows what is going on in Harry’s mind, but is respectful of the process, giving Harry space to think.
While Hermione might be a bit more forward when she tries to get Harry or Ron to talk about something, she is still respectful and allows them to go through what they need to before they can talk about it.
Obviously everyone cares about each other, and they do their best to show that care, and one of those ways is respecting a person’s space to “talk” when something happens. This is vital to so many people, and I am so glad that Rowling approaches it in such a natural, normal way that it isn’t absolutely obvious right away.
Thoughts Are More Powerful Than Anything Else
One of the most powerful statements is in my least favorite book of the series, The Order of the Phoenix. “According to Madam Pomfrey, thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else…”
As someone who is surviving through major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I can tell you that this is absolutely true. If you can’t remember when this is said, it is shortly after the battle in the Department of Mysteries; Ron is in the Hospital Wing going through treatment for scars he sustained from those weird and fascinating attacking brains.
It’s this random sentence hanging out in the midst of some humor, and sadness, that really illustrates mental health and the power of it, whether for good or bad. Thoughts cause scarring, and as Ron learned, those thoughts can leave deep scarring.
We see this throughout the whole series, especially after the events of The Goblet of Fire. This sentence expertly explains the power of thoughts and how much they can harm a person, and I think it is the perfect sentence to explain mental illness. Those thoughts do leave strong, long-lasting scars, more than any form of physical harm.
Rowling Dealt With Mental Health Issues While Writing Harry Potter
Rowling didn’t just throw in random mental health nods just because; she struggled with mental illness before and while writing the Harry Potter series. She went through intense depression after her divorce and also went through a difficult childhood. I don’t know all the details, but she used a lot of what she went through in childhood and adulthood to write the series that we all know and love.
I fully believe that one of the reasons Harry Potter had, and still has, such a powerful impact is Rowling’s approach to mental health. This series was one of the few children’s stories that adults were dying to get their hands on, and is often considered one that encouraged many adults to get into children’s and YA literature. It spanned the age ranges for many reasons, and, as I said, I think the approach to mental health is a major one.
What are your thoughts on Rowling, Harry Potter, and mental health?
For more #Potterweek check out the following posts!
PotterVerse: Clever Naming and the Importance of Mothers
PotterPeeps: Severus Snape, Hagrid’s Birthday Cake for Harry, Least Favorite Character: Dumbledore, & Favorite Character: Draco
PotterPonderings: Mental Health, Circle Theory, CrackPot Theories, Lessons Learned from Dumbledore, Voldemort, Snape, and James
PotterHouse: Sorting Stories, Slytherin and Proud, CharmBomb
PotterParks: Potterhead Family Trip, Ashley and Debbie from You Haven’t Seen?!