The Importance of Magical Mental Health Education in Harry Potter
Growing up with the Harry Potter series always led me through a world of wonder, a series of enchanted moments to escape the realities of life and my mental illnesses. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wondered about the ways mental health and traumatic events are dealt with in-universe. After all that took place at Hogwarts during Harry’s years, the school would need to look after those that were traumatized from watching friends and family get hurt and die.
There is a long list of dangerous, traumatizing events that take place at Hogwarts so often that it feels like they are brushed over. In year 1, Harry and the gang are nearly killed by a troll and explore parts of the school that, though off limits, puts them in harm’s way. There are countless times where students have gone into the Forbidden Forest and encountered unpredictable creatures. Neville is forced to watch the Cruciatus Curse be put on a creature in front of his classmates, while Ginny is possessed by Tom Riddle. Harry spends most of his schooling trying to protect his loved ones to the point where he ultimately dies, then comes back, to save the Wizarding World from Voldemort. Hermione is bullied and later tortured for her blood status. It’s easy to see how drained these kids would be being hurt and seeing people they know and even love hurt every year.
The event that stands out the most is the Triwizard Tournament. While there is an age minimum for entering the competition, given the risk it doesn’t seem as if they really care about the safety of their students. These are teenagers in a tournament that can kill them, has killed people before, and they celebrate every tournament task without batting an eyelash. Where’s the PTA to cancel this tournament out of concern for the physical and mental safety of their children and students?
Even without all of the extreme instances, in any Wizarding school there are plenty of spells and potions that can physically and/or mentally harm you. Sectumsempra is a curse that cuts or slashes a target, and if something is severed off, there is no way of growing it back. Harry uses this curse against Draco in Half-Blood Prince, severely wounding him. Draco is visibly shaken by this encounter as it almost cost him his life, a moment that would have traumatized him for the rest of his life.
There’s the Emerald Potion, known to cause pain, despair, and extreme thirst to anyone who drinks it. Though Dumbledore had been through his share of danger throughout his life, the moment he begins to drink this potion, there’s a notable shift in his demeanor. Eventually, he even begs Harry to let him stop drinking the potion, causing clear discomfort for Harry. The potion is said to make you feel so terrible that whoever drinks it wants to drink from the water in the cave that surrounds the potion. But this would lead to their death as drinking that water awakens Inferi, creatures that drag victims underneath the water. Oppugno is a jinx that makes moveable objects and conjured creatures to attack a target. While not as dark, it can some serious repercussions. In Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort confronts Harry and Dumbledore, casting Oppugno at them with glass shards. If it wasn’t for Dumbledore’s shield, Harry and Dumbledore would have been seriously injured or dead.
And some magic require mental fortitude to cast or wield them, making mental health an important basis for magical education. Skipping the more obvious Patronus Charm, Fiendfyre is a dark curse that has the ability to seek out living targets. A student or any wizard who isn’t trained well in the Dark Arts would find this spell impossible to control if left burning for too long, it can turn into a fiery creature. Crabbe died after casting this curse in the Room of Requirement in Deathly Hallows, having not paid attention to how to kill the flames of Fiendfyre in class nor to how uncontrollable the curse was to manage.
At the very least, Hogwarts students would need a counselor, preferably a couple of counselors to help these children make it through their years at Hogwarts and let them know that though they might be in danger some days against Dark forces or just the typical hazards of magic, they have the tools and support to be okay. We have counselors in Muggle high schools that do come through for those in need, not just for the education aspects, but if they notice any changes in behavior or mood.
The one moment where we actually see a student getting care beyond physical health is in Prisoner of Azkaban where Lupin gives Harry chocolate to feel better after coming into contact with dementors. He also teaches him to cast a Patronus, a spell that wards off soul-sucking dementors as you think of the happiest memory you can. Lupin is one of the few adult figures in the school that cares about the very real dangers presented in staying at Hogwarts. He’s thought of short term care, the chocolate, as well as long term, the Patronus, as dementors were stationed outside of Hogwarts for the time being. Lupin also shares how to beat a Boggart, making sure that the kids know how to deal with them in the long term with their own imagination and silliness to manage the anxiety they get from facing Boggarts. These children thousands of miles away from family and are pretty much in danger every single day, but other than this small moment, there isn’t much else to the mental care of these students.
The series as a whole is about love, friendship, and finding your own family through trials and tribulations, but I find that physical and mental health don’t go as hand-in-hand with those concepts as it should at a magical boarding school. With 11-year-olds in the care of people that they don’t know, you’d expect that both would be essential components. While there is a small hospital wing that Madam Pomfrey does her best to take care of, there’s a lack of care for the overall well being of students at Hogwarts.
In the Muggle world, school shootings have undoubtedly increased the amount of time students spend in counseling to help deal with these traumatic events. The end of the Harry Potter series is kind of upsetting to think about now, as we skip years ahead to where everyone is sending their kids off to Hogwarts, without showing us the way the characters struggle after defeating Voldemort. As someone who has been through traumatic events myself, I wonder about the struggles of everyone after such a rough senior year. It would have been great to see teachers banding together to find a wizard or witch to come talk to the students about mental health and how to cope.
The wizarding world comes up with physical protections; the schools put up defenses like magical metal detectors that detect when students bring in objects that aren’t safe for school. They start policing what can and cannot be inside of dorm rooms and lounges. Much of this is seen under Umbridge. It is similar in the sense of how Muggle schools would deal with traumatic events like school shootings, but far more aggressive in nature as Umbridge’s idea of growth heads in the wrong direction. In Half-Blood Prince, extra precautions are taken by the administration as Voldemort is now out in the open. There are protective spells around the school, luggage is searched before arrival on school grounds, there are harsher punishments for those caught out of the common rooms after hours, and Aurors are stationed throughout the school grounds. After the first Hogsmeade trip, all others are postponed after Katie Bell is attacked by the cursed necklace. So it goes to show that there is some care taken as danger rises.
But with regard to mental protections, in real life, usually, we seek counseling, therapy, and in some cases, medications. For others who have already been struggling with mental health, it’s a part of their daily life/routine. Hogwarts should have resources for magical students to do the same.
I believe that treatment of mental health at any magical school would look very similar to our real life applications. There could be some sort of potion to help ease the minds of those struggling to think clearly in moments of intense anxiety or dissociation. Instead of dogs being service support, more cats, owls, and toads would be seen as companions in places outside of dorms. Other creatures might also start to see more emotional support practices, with the use of magic making them easier to train to deal with anxiety and depression. A department of mental health at St. Mungos could serve as a way to support witches and wizards. In addition to the trips to Hogsmeade, trips to a nearby health center would be beneficial. Mental health providers using pensieves to help patients deal with their memories. Wizards in the sectors of mental health would know charms that would help determine the best treatment for you specifically. Having a meditation class that is optional, with potions incorporated that work the same as aromatherapy, promotes that the option to work in mental health for the magical world and to actively seek out ways to cope.
But the most important thing would be professors taking the time to talk to students after traumatizing events happen, creating an atmosphere where the whole faculty is there to support them. If Dumbledore can make an announcement every year of a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, he can take the time to make sure every student doesn’t feel anxious and terrified of another year at Hogwarts.