The Wrath of Dementors: An Introduction to Depression

By Pavitra Srinivasan

The world of
Harry Potter is filled with mythical beasts and terrifying creatures, capable
of inflicting pain and punishment to anyone deemed worthy of the wrath.
Naturally, in a story of good vs. evil, it is not entirely surprising that
deviants are subjected to a form of rehabilitation and imprisonment. What does
give pause is the notion that those who guard the gates of these prisons are

Dementors are
essentially hooded figures who are able to magically steal all happy memories
and cause their targets to simply remember and relive the darkest and painful
memories. Thus, they are given the monumental task of punishing the worst of
the criminals. Though an obvious choice, not even fire-breathing dragons are
given this consideration.

To say that the
dementors can be interpreted as a metaphor for depression is a valid argument.
In the Harry Potter series, a powerful spell that calls for the invocation of
pure happiness is enough to ward off the demons. However, in the real world, the
illness goes far deeper than just that.

The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American
Psychiatric Association, has a variety of disorders that present with
conditions consistent with what the majority may acknowledge as depression.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is perhaps the most well known of these, but
others include: dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, substance-induced mood
disorder, mood disorder due to a generic medical condition, adjustment disorder
with depressed mood, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders,
schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, and personality disorders (Center
for Substance Abuse Treatment).

Regardless of
the disorder within which it appears, depression is an illness that goes far
beyond a sadness that lasts a few days, or simply “feeling blue”. The criteria
used to establish a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) includes the
appearance of depressive episodes, which include at the very least five of the
following symptoms: depressed mood, anhedonia (or a lower interest in
activities, even those that previously brought pleasure), change in weight or
appetite, irregular sleeping patterns, change in activity, fatigue, guilt and
worthlessness, lower concentration, and suicidal ideation (American Psychiatric

Unfortunately, a
neurological model that explains depression has yet to be established. Even
further, a concrete cause is unlikely to provide the truth. There is no single
chemical that causes it. Rather, various brain regions are implicated in how
they are affected by depression, such as the amygdala, thalamaus and
hippocampus (Miller, 2011). The brain is a complex puzzle that is still waiting
to be solved, so any definitive answers are probably on the horizon, what with
the advent of neuro-imaging in the form of CAT scans and fMRI machines.

For something
that affects a significant portion of the population, there is a lot of
misconception about depression itself. Perhaps it is the lack of a tangible
culprit: no bacteria to blame, virus to vilify, or tumor to tongue-lash.
Perhaps it lies in our socio-cultural fabric, when threads of truth are
interwoven and hidden among what’s deemed acceptable. Or even perhaps, maybe
the reason society doesn’t acknowledge the problem is because the answer is far
beyond our understanding.

only we had magical wands and incantations.

Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
 (4th ed.,
text rev.). doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890423349

Center for
Substance Abuse Treatment. Managing Depressive Symptoms in Substance Abuse
Clients During Early Recovery. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (US); 2008. (Treatment Improvement Protocol
(TIP) Series, No. 48.) Appendix D—DSM-IV-TR Mood Disorders. Available from:

Miller, M. C.
(2011). What causes depression?.Understanding
, Retrieved from

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