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.
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 Association).
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.
If only we had magical wands and incantations.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (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: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64063/
Miller, M. C. (2011). What causes depression?.Understanding depression, Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm