Curing Mental Illness with “Harry Potter”: A Possibility or Fake News?
by Josefine Olsson Lundahl
Can the fictional books that we read help us feel better?
I bet a lot of the people reading this question instinctively say, “Hell yes, they can… and have!” I’m sure that you, like us, have been helped in so many different ways by the world of Harry Potter.
As young girls, one struggling with depression and one struggling with isolation and anxiety, Harry Potter has held our hands throughout the years.
I remember being a 12-year-old girl living in Sweden, hiding away in my room of pillows, reading book after book to escape the reality I was stuck in. When struggling to find happiness and a feeling of safety, it was an immense comfort to hear Dumbledore say that, even in the darkest of times, I can find happiness, and all I have to do is “remember to turn on the light.” My values have been shaped by this series so that I have a positive look on life, show respect to every individual I meet, and have an endless curiosity to explore. The possibilities in the magical world are limitless, like how they are for us mere Muggles – just ask Arthur.
Little did I know that my future best friend, Maja, lived only two hours away and struggled through middle school, which was a very difficult time for her. Her self-esteem was broken down every day, and she closed herself off from the world to protect herself. In our midnight chats during that time, she told me she doesn’t know if she would have managed that loneliness without fictional worlds, especially the magical world of Harry Potter. She was drawn to Luna, who reminded her that she did not have to compromise her personality to fit in. Harry Potter was the audiobook she fell asleep to every night and the world she dreamed of both day and night.
Even now, 15 years later, we regularly return to Hogwarts, no longer to escape our reality but to rejoin the familiar feelings of warmth and love. It has even given us a lifelong friendship and master’s thesis partners. The question now stuck in our minds is if we can stay in the world of Harry Potter through our professional lives as psychologists and incorporate this feeling of warmth and love from fictional books into psychological processes.
There is evidence that fiction can help us in a number of psychological ways. It can increase life satisfaction and social connectedness.1 Reading fiction for pleasure has also been associated with higher levels of empathy and understanding of others.2 So to answer our initial question, there is some evidence that fictional books can benefit our mental health but less evidence for it being used in therapeutic processes.
This brings us to our study where we want to dive into how the world of Harry Potter can be incorporated into a well-being intervention. The purpose of our study is to see how reading Harry Potter in different ways influences various psychological aspects. We also want to see what role interacting with other people about Harry Potter has.
If you have a general love for Harry Potter and have read the books more times than you can recall or if you would like to spend more time in this world with us, this is really a study you will enjoy participating in. All you have to do is click the link below.
1Billington, J. (2015). Reading between the lines: The benefits of reading for pleasure. University of Liverpool.
2Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Peterson, J. B. (2009). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications – The European Journal of Communication Research, 34, 407–28. https://doi.org/10.1515/ COMM.2009.025