What can we learn from Harry Potter about better mental health? A lot…

What can we learn from Harry Potter about better mental health? A lot…

via Forbes by Noma Hazish

Accio cake and confetti! As all Potterheads know, it’s a big day in the Wizarding World. Both Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling — creator of the fantasy series and all-round queen — have their birthdays today! (I’m sure somewhere in the Potterverse Harry, Ron, Hermione and the Weasley clan are busy with their own magic-filled celebration.)

Though it’s been over two decades since the first Harry Potter book was published, the fantasy saga continues to be one of the most beloved series of all time.

I still remember the first time I laid my hands on Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone when I was 13.  I used to rush back home from school and finish all my homework in a hurry so I could get back to reading. Sometimes, I’d even forget it was way past my bedtime. 13 years on, I still find this series just as riveting.

While these books and their movie adaptations are fun, fascinating and wildly entertaining as works of fiction, they also underscore valuable lessons on mental health and wellbeing that we can all learn from the motley squad of wizards and witches of Hogwarts. Here are some of my favorites:

#1 Don’t bottle up your emotions. “From the very beginning of the series, we learn that suppressing a witch’s or wizard’s magical potential is likely to backfire,” notes Dr Janine Scarlet, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and author of Superhero TherapyandTherapy Quest. For example, when Harry unwittingly unleashed a boa constrictor on Dudley at the London Zoo or when Credence develops Obscurus — a dark, parasitic force — resulting from magic repression in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. “Just like Harry’s magical abilities, our emotions too are not meant to be suppressed. In fact, it’s our emotions that make us magical. They make us care, they allow us to have access to our heart, to recognize what is most important to us. They are meant to be explored and attended to,” says Dr Scarlet. 

#2 All boggarts can be banished. Boggarts are malevolent shape-shifting creatures that take on the form of whatever its observer fears the most. “Much like our own phobias and worst-case scenario-related thoughts, the boggarts feed on terror and are defeated by laughter,” Dr Scarlet points out. “If rather than running away from our biggest fears, we face them, or better yet, make them “riddikulus” – it can help change the way we perceive our worst fears and anxieties, rendering them much less threatening,” she explains. The fantasy series features several other examples where the characters manage to face and overcome their greatest fears. For instance, when Ron ventures into the Forbidden Forest, following the scampering spiders with Harry, despite his arachnophobia. Or, when Neville manages to overcome his deep-rooted social anxiety and leads the students in a rebellion against the Death Eaters who had taken over Hogwarts.Bottom line: Don’t let your fears define you! 

#3 Happiness is a state of mind. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light,”  says Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This line is a powerful reminder that each one of us has an inner light within us — a beacon of happiness. We can either ignore it and let the circumstances control us or, we can choose to harness that light. That is, learn to have hope, look for the silver lining and continue to persevere. “Throughout the course of the series, Harry faces a lot of troubling challenges and despite all the evil and darkness he fights, he never looses that light of hope,” Dr Scarlet points out. “Even though there is a lot of injustice out there, the series reminds us that there is always hope and that even one person can make a difference,” she adds…

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