“Harry Potter” and Mental Health Awareness Month – Part 1
Mental illness is just one of many invisible illnesses that people ignore, overlook, or just completely misunderstand. Sometimes it’s difficult to guide others towards a better understanding. Preconceived ideas, unwillingness to educate yourself, fear of what you don’t understand. These are all very common things felt by a person meeting someone with a mental illness, especially when they are unprepared and under-educated. It is the hope of many that, by shining a light on these struggles, others can begin to learn, accept, and destroy the stigmas.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, I have aligned various Harry Potter characters with a variety of ailments that they could be a representation of. Note: This is not an article suggesting these characters actually suffer from these illnesses, but merely that certain actions and characteristics they regularly exhibit can be representative of them.
Harry Potter – Borderline Personality Disorder
I’m sure there are a few different mental illnesses he could represent, but in my opinion Harry most accurately depicts BPD—especially around Books 4 and 5. For the sake of brevity in regard to this very complex disorder, I will stick to the three most glaring symptoms: Problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with other people. Around the time of the Triwizard Tournament, Umbridge, the Order, and all of that mess, it’s almost painful watching Harry struggle with his emotions. The people he loves and trusts most are also the ones who suffer his emotional wrath the hardest. With Dumbledore, for example, he swung violently from idealization to devaluation. He is all over the place. We know that Gryffindors are known for their impulsivity, but really, does anyone take it to the level of Harry Potter? It’s not that he does these things in an attempt to hurt others either. He can’t help most of it, and he often beats himself up over it when all’s said and done.
It’s unknown whether it is genetics or environment that causes BPD, but in either case, Harry has much to light the fuse. His father was also pretty impulsive, after all, but the reality of his living situation (unstable family relationships) might be the most likely cause of the two.
Hermione Granger – Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder
Not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCPD less toward repetition and ritual like that found in OCD patients, but rather has deeper set roots in the person’s personality and traits. What many might find surprising to learn is that those with OCD tend to have unwanted thoughts and impulses, while those with OCPD believe their thoughts are correct and justified. It’s not the things they do, but who they are. Rules, orderliness, and control rule their lives. Someone with OCPD might show signs such as:
- Over-devotion to work
- Not wanting to allow other people to do things
- Preoccupation with details, rules, and lists
Revisions, timetables, priorities, and reading all of the texts prior to the first day of term? Sounds like our Hermione.
Nymphadora Tonks – Body Dysmorphic Disorder
While issues such as anorexia and bulimia are not new to us, the term “body dysmorphia” is starting to gain more speed. With a greater awareness of body image, as well as the tidal wave of backlash against photoshopped models and its effects on young girls, came the deeper understanding of this mental illness. It is not as simple as low self-esteem, fad dieting, or plastic surgery. Those who suffer from BDD dwell on self-perceived flaws in their appearance to the point of unhealthy obsession. It is not narcissism or simple vanity. In fact, people with BDD hate every imperfection they find in themselves and can go as far as never leaving the house or even committing suicide because they feel that, no matter what measures they take, they are never perfect.
Tonks’s constantly changing appearance mirrors that of someone who goes to extremes to change the flaws that they alone see in their own bodies. No matter how much weight they lose, they will always feel too fat. No matter how much plastic surgery they undergo—sometimes at dangerous levels—something is always off to them. The fact that being a Metamorphmagus is a hereditary ability also aligns with the understanding that genetic predisposition is a factor in the cause of this disorder.
Dementors – Depression
While it is a well-known affliction, depression still carries with it many stigmas. Too often, people offer up a bevy of suggestions on how to “fix the sadness.” Though they mean well, those of us who suffer from depression—myself included—aren’t able to be “fixed” with a quick jog, a change in diet, or a bit of fresh air. It’s a chemical imbalance in our brains, not something we do to seek attention. To be honest, we don’t want the extra attention. It just makes us feel even more defective when someone is poking us with all these reasons we “shouldn’t” be sad, or that “others have it much worse, pull up your big girl/boy pants.”
We are very much aware of this, and yet we still can’t stop feeling this way. We are weighed down by a heavy cloak, feeling as though we will never get those warm and fuzzy feelings back again. It sucks out our soul until we are left as nothing but a shell of ourselves. Which is why the Dementors are probably the absolute best representation of this illness. Everything has turned cold for us, by no will of our own, and it takes a little bit of chemical help to steady the balance, whether it be chocolate or anti-depressants.
That wraps up Part 1 of this Mental Health Awareness Month post series. Keep your eyes peeled for Parts 2 and 3. Mental illness can affect anyone of any gender at any age. You are not alone. If you, or anyone you know, have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.