In the Harry Potter universe, a sense of cold, creeping dread announces the arrival of Dementors, foul creatures of darkness who sweep away happiness and deal in despair. “Get too near a Dementor,” Professor Lupin tells Harry in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.” Dementors might be real, dangerous monsters for our wizard hero, but for author JK Rowling, Dementors are an avatar for depression. While writing the beloved series, Rowling was suffering from a bout of depression herself, which she described as “that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.” This, incidentally, is almost exactly how Lupin describes Dementors to Harry.
Unfortunately for us Muggles living in a boring, non-magical world, things like depression don’t exist in a solid form. We can’t shout “expecto patronum!” at mental illness and chase it away with a helpful Patronus. But there are some steps we can take to combat it, such as the simplest, most obvious, but often most difficult starting point: talking about it. When Harry faints upon his first encounter with a Dementor, he is filled with shame. Nobody else is fainting, so why is he? It isn’t until Professor Lupin opens the door to a conversation that Harry learns why he is so affected by the creatures, and how to fight them off. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day dedicated to breaking the silence on mental illness through conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and text messaging with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.