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Is 'Harry Potter' actually about mental health?

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 1:00 p.m. MDT

One fan theory about Harry Potter suggests the story is about mental illness. And that might not be too far off base.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

Harry Potter’s spell on the American public may never find its end.

The Harry Potter series, which spawned seven books, eight movies and a slew of side stories, has been analyzed and critiqued heavily over the years. Recently, it’s been linked to politics. Research by Anthony Gierzynski for Johns Hopkins University unveiled that those who read Harry Potter are more open to diversity, politically tolerant and active in politics overall.

But is the series also about mental illness?

That seems to be the thought of one fan, who posted a theory on Reddit six months ago that depicts Hogwarts as a mental institution. This theory may be more relevant given Robin Williams' recent struggle with depression.

“Every major event in the books is a fantasy/delusional version of the experiences that a child would encounter in the course of being institutionalized and forcibly treated for mental illness,” the user wrote.

According to the theory, Potter’s real parents are the Dursleys. His "other parents" are really just delusions created by years of neglect and abuse. He arrives at Hogwarts — or, in accordance to the theory, a mental institution — and things unravel from there.

Potter is thrown into a world of fantasy that has several connections to mental illness. For one, his godfather, Sirius Black, is an insane man hiding from the law, and then there is a werewolf with an obsession with the moon — which studies have linked to insanity and lunacy. Another connection is that one of the characters, Neville Longbottom, has a family history of mental health issues.

The theory also ties a lot of Harry Potter's experiences in Hogwarts to his creativity. He imagines the world that he lives in. He isn’t some famous wizard — it’s all an illusion developed by Harry’s creative mind that comes from his mental health issues.

And that’s not too far off base. Those with mental health issues have been known to be overly creative, according to the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience. Some connections can’t be measured, but there are examples of the mentally ill being extra creative with their work, Stanford’s research found.

“For example, in manic-depressive artists, periods of mania are often associated with increased excitability, inspiration and massive output,” the research found.

One recent example of this is the late Robin Williams, who was hailed as a comedic genius before succumbing to suicide. Williams was a tortured genius, according to USA Today, since he was so creative and vibrant, and yet he was depressed.

Some have argued there is no link between creativity and mental illness, but others, like researchers of the Karolinska Institute, found writers and other creative types are at higher risk of anxiety, bipolar disorders and substance abuse.

"It is important that we do not romanticize people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses,” said Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, a mental health charity organization. "We know that one in four people will be diagnosed with a mental health problem this year and that these individuals will come from a range of different backgrounds, professions and walks of life. Our main concern is that they get the information and support that they need and deserve.”

Harry Potter’s fantastical and magic-filled world may just be an ordinary fiction tale. But it may also contain a cautionary message, warning readers of the impact mental health can have on each of our lives.

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @herbscribner

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