J.K Rowling’s series documenting the wizarding world of Harry Potter was a national phenomenon, both on paper and on the big screen. However, J.K Rowling, like Harry Potter, was dealing with her own Dementors in the form of depression. Rowling was first inspired to write the world of Harry Potter on a train in 1990. She completed the first manuscript in 1995, and was initially rejected by 12 publishing companies. However, her manuscript for the first book in what would become a 7-book series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was eventually picked up by the Bloomsbury publishing company and was officially published in 1997. At the time, she was a newly divorced, single mother living on benefits in Edinborough, while also struggling with depression. Rowling describes how she felt as if she had hit rock bottom, and found herself with suicidal thoughts. Inspired by her young daughter, she sought medical help, yet was dismissed by a stand-in general practitioner who did not consider her case serious enough. It was Rowling’s regular doctor, however, who looked over the medical notes and saw the seriousness of Rowling’s depression, and suggested she go to counseling. Rowling says that “She absolutely saved me because I don’t think I would have had the guts to go and do it twice.” It was from there that “rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I [Rowling] rebuilt my life,” and in which the Harry Potter series exploded onto bookshelves.
As her first books in the Harry Potter series began to grow in popularity, Rowling also began to write her experience with severe depression into her books, specifically the third book in the Harry Potter series, through the Dementors. In her 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, Rowling relates the monstrous Dementors to depression as “[t]hey [Dementors] infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”
However, Rowling reached a turning point in her struggle with depression after the vision of her Harry Potter storyline became clearer. Writing became a way for Rowling to cope with her depression, and her books have since sold over 500 million copies, making her the ninth best-selling fiction author of all time. Under her close scrutiny and instruction, Rowling’s books also turned into movies starting in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the 8-part series tracing Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s journey at Hogwarts grossing roughly $7.7 billion and furthering the Harry Potter fever among fiction fans and film watchers.
Rowling continues to be an advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses, and has recently been known for her hilarious and witty comebacks on Twitter. Nevertheless, Rowling makes a point to have an open conversation about her depression and in an interview for a student magazine at Edinburgh University, Rowling emphasized as much. “I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never...What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.”