Dementors and Depression in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By: Tim De Pass
Whether it is a book, a song, or a television show, all these mediums have a way of comforting us and allow us to understand feelings we cannot even verbalize. I will be going deep into Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and its meaningful portrayal of depression. Harry Potter is a hero in a world of magic and wizards, but what J.K. Rowling does so well in these novels is that in light of Harry’s extraordinary gifts, he has fraught human tendencies like every other muggle. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s reaction to the Dementors is a direct representation of the experience of depression.
Dementors are guards for the prison, Azkaban, and come to guard Hogwarts when there is a risk of an escaped prisoner. In the book, professor Lupin describes Dementors as creatures that “ ... drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them ... Get too near Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you.” This description of Dementors is a perfect metaphor for the symptoms of depression, which include feelings of hopelessness, anger, fatigue, a loss of interest in hobbies, and an intense sadness. During periods of depression, it can feel like waves filled with our worst thoughts and feelings, continuously crashing onto the surface of our mind, making us unable to do anything. These feelings of torment do not stop; they gain momentum and eventually crash only to go back out to sea. But we know the inevitable: the tide will return them soon. Dementors suck out our happiness and leave us only with our worst trauma. If we understand Harry’s origin story, we realize why the Dementors affect him so significantly. There is so much pain and suffering for the Dementors to feed off of. Similar to depression, which lives off of our experiences of embarrassment, shame, or anxiety, leaving us to ruminate on these feelings endlessly.
Dementors affect Harry throughout the story. They leave him with feelings of irritableness, despair, and isolation. After Harry is exposed to a Dementor, he is confused and lonely. He wonders why he is affected so much more significantly than everyone else. He becomes wounded by the thought that no one understands what he is going through. The Dementors even cause a loss of interest in the activities Harry enjoys. Quidditch is one of the only things that Harry does that makes him feel free. However, when a Dementor interrupts his match, causing Harry to faint, he no longer has the confidence or desire to play anymore. He becomes consumed with anxiety and fear about how the Dementors may affect him if he plays again.
Reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and interpreting the themes of depression and dementors can be impactful when thinking of our own mental health. A story like this can be comforting when feelings of isolation and confusion kick in during periods of depression. Although it is only fiction, this story may help us feel connected to something in times where we feel like we are all alone. This connection creates hope that we are being heard and understood. It may even help in defining feelings or thoughts that we do not even know how to explain. Furthermore, The Prisoner of Azkaban can teach us about resilience and coping during times of depression. When Harry is severely affected by the weaponized depression of Dementors, he reaches out to his teacher Remus Lupin for help. It is easier said than done, and Harry experiences shame when doing so, but he uses a support network around him to help in his battle against Dementors. Understanding we are not alone and have others around us for support is so important when facing depression in real life.
Lastly, Harry develops his own coping mechanism in the form of his Patronus. A Patronus acts as a shield between yourself and Dementors. When Harry yells Expecto Patronum, he can ward off the effects of the Dementors. This acts as his own coping technique to combat his reaction to the Dementors. When analyzing our own mental health, it is important to find our own Patronus. In order to fight our own worst thoughts, it is critical to discover coping mechanisms that keeps the darkness at bay.
Harry is the chosen one. The boy who lived. He is a hero and has magical powers that we dream of as children. But his human suffering is no different than our own. He battles feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, and shame all the time. Harry’s experience with these emotions and his bravery in these moments, more than his magical abilities, is what truly makes him special. It is feelings of anguish and our worst thoughts that keep us awake in the dark of night. But reading a story like The Prisoner of Azkaban gives us a thorough line to our own mind. It is stories like Harry Potter that remind us that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.
Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.