Lesson 3) Mad World

Professor Baine sat at her desk, thin wire glasses on her face and hair pulled back into a messy bun. The candles were back and floating randomly around the room as she looked between a small notebook and the cauldron that was emitting a green smoke beside her. There was a light lavender scent that filled the room. She didn’t notice as students walked in, cutting something with her knife and dropping it into the potion, watching for a moment and writing something in her notebook. “Professor?” One of the students asked after a minute.

She looked up suddenly, gasping. “Oh, dears! I’m so sorry. Do forgive me.” She waved her wand over the cauldron and it disappeared, reappearing on the other side of the room to simmer. “I hope you all enjoyed your homework assignment! Today, we’ll be discussing the opposite of happiness and euphoria…”


Today we’re going to be talking about another disorder that can be treated with the potion we talked about last week. That’s right, we’re going to talk about depression. Depression is a very serious mental illness. A lot of people underplay how severe it can be. What’s even worse, it’s getting more and more prevalent each year. Now, this isn’t to say that more people are depressed, but that more people are getting diagnosed and seeking treatment. This is an important thing, as 80% of people that live with depression often don’t seek any sort of treatment for it.

This may not seem significant until you stop to think about what depression feels like. Some of you don’t need any explanation, you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about. The pit in your stomach feeling that won’t go away. The heaviness that weighs you down. The desire to want to do something, anything, yet nothing sounds pleasant or enjoyable. It’s the tears you want to cry but yet they won’t come. The feeling when everything is just too much and you can’t get out of bed. When you don’t feel sad, because you don’t feel anything, you’re just...empty. That, my dears, is depression. Often times there is no cause for this feeling. I spent two years in Japan studying potions relating to mental illness and one quote I’ll never forget from a patient was this. “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance. Depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” It’s this awful feeling for reasons unknown or for reasons that make no sense. Things that once held great joy now mean nothing. It’s staring at your favorite meal and yet not wanting to take a bite.

Let’s take a moment to look at some quotes about depression or said by depressed people in hopes that maybe you’ll gain a better understanding of what it’s like to live with depression. I’ll also include a short video.

“Life is a series of disappointments broken only by dark spells of depression.”

“Depression is not a sign of weakness. It means you’ve been strong for far too long.”

“I feel like I bother people just by being alive.”

“Depression is not being able to talk about your problems, while taking on everyone else’s just to hide your own.”

“I really want to be happy but there’s something inside me that screams ‘You don’t deserve it!’.”

“Nothing is more depressing than having everything and still feeling really sad.”

"That's the worst thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key."

Be warned of language within the first video, please.

One interesting thing about people with depression is that a lot of people want to get better, but at the same time, the thought scares them. After you’ve lived with depression for so long, it becomes the only thing that you can count on. It’s like a blanket to protect you from everything else. When everything else is changing or different in your world, depression is there. It becomes a constant. Here’s a song that expresses that sentiment.

Anxiety is also closely related to depression. While it’s a different feeling, it’s often comorbid with depression. Anxiety is that feeling you get when you know you’ve forgotten something but you can’t remember what it is. It’s that feeling that grips your heart when panic sets in and you start wondering if you’re capable of doing anything at all. It’s a hand that takes hold of you and feels like someone is squeezing the air out of your lungs when all you want is a good breath. Here is one of my favorite spoken word poems about anxiety.

Now, there are many forms of depression. Some of these may present a little differently, but all of them have similar symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

The first we’re going to talk about is dysthymia. This is also known as chronic depression or persistent depressive disorder. While it is considered a milder form of depression, it can co-exist with the forms we’ll discuss below. It most often is comorbid with major depressive disorder. There are many interesting facts about dysthymia. It affects women almost twice as often as men. There is yet to be a reason why that has been discovered. In fact, the cause itself of dysthymia is still unknown. Most people think it is caused by chemical imbalances. Because of this, the potion we discussed last week can also be used to treat dysthymia, along with the potion we’ll discuss at the end of this lesson. While chemical imbalances are mostly said to be the blame, many factors can contribute. These include, but are not limited to, psychological, biological, trauma, environmental, and/or trauma.

There are many symptoms of dysthymia. They mostly relate to depression symptoms as a whole. These include sadness, anxiousness, feeling empty, less ability to concentrate, think, or make decisions, low energy and fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, weight or appetite changes, sleeping pattern changes, and low self esteem. The difference between depression as a whole and a specific diagnosis of dysthymia is the time period in which the symptoms have persisted. This varies from healthcare practitioner to practitioner, but most say it has to have been happening for at least six months to a year.

Perinatal depression is a term that actually encompasses a few different types of depression relating to pregnancy and childbirth. “Peri” is a term that means around, and thus perinatal depression includes all that which centers around childbirth. This includes prenatal depression, postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis. Each of these has a few common symptoms, but there are ones that can vary with each as well. The point of pregnancy is the main determining factor in which perinatal depression is diagnosed.

The reason for this form of depression is most often caused by the intense change in hormones that women undergo during pregnancy. The physical changes can also cause much distress. Perinatal depression often goes away within weeks of a baby being born, but when it does not or gets worse, it is then when a woman is suggested to seek help.

Prenatal depression is depression that occurs during the pregnancy itself. This form of depression affects anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of women. The symptoms for prenatal depression include crying, sleeping problems unrelated to the increased need to urinate caused by pregnancy, anxiety, and poor attachment to the foetus.

When depression occurs after the baby is born, but doesn’t last more than two weeks, it is referred to as the baby blues. The symptoms of prenatal depression continue but can also include feeling overwhelmed, irritability, rapid mood changes, and intense frustration. This form of depression can affect up to 80 percent of new mothers.

When occurring for more than two weeks, the depression becomes categorized as postpartum depression. The number of affected women drops down to 10 to 20 percent. The added symptoms that can occur are persistent sadness, lack of interest in the baby, memory problems, and can even include headaches, numbness, chest pains, or heart problems. For some moms this becomes even more distressing because they know that they should care about their baby, but they just...don’t. Imagine looking at your child and feeling like they’re nothing more than a stranger to you. Can you imagine how distressing that would be?

Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare and is an emergent situation that often requires a trip to St Mungo’s. Postpartum psychosis involves hallucinations. These are mostly auditory, though visual hallucinations can occur as well. While the percentage of occurrence is low, it can lead to suicide or infanticide, which is why it is imperative that if you see someone suffering from this to get them to a healthcare practitioner as quickly as possible.

Seasonal depression, more commonly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD (please note that SAD can also stand for social anxiety disorder. In this course, SAD will always be used relating to seasonal affective disorder), is a type of depression that directly correlates with a specific time of year. This most often is the fall or winter, though rarely you will also find people that are affected by the spring or summer. Seasonal depression is a subset of major depression, which we will discuss next.

Major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, is what most people think of when they think “depression” in general. It is the most commonly known and most commonly diagnosed form of depression.

The symptoms of major depressive disorder are feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness, loss of interest in normal activities, lack of energy, angry outbursts, irritability, anxiety, slowed thinking, troubles concentrating or making decisions, reoccurring thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, attempts, or actual suicide, or unexplained physical problems such as aches and pains.

Major depressive disorder affects every aspect of a person’s life. There are people who lose their job, their families, and even their homes due to depression. Depression is a serious problem. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please reach out and try to get help. There are things that can be done to help. It is important to know that feeling this way is not normal, and there are things that can be done to help.

Something that I find really interesting about depression is that it actually affects people within the wizarding world up to 10% more than Muggles. No one is exactly sure why, but it’s believed that the parts of us that make us able to have magic also heighten our sensitivity to the brain chemicals that we discussed last lesson! This means that more minor imbalances lead to more significant symptoms. That’s not to say that every case of depression will be worse within a wizard, just that it becomes more prevalent.

Treatment is significantly easier with the magical community than that of the Muggle. As you remember from Year One, Muggles can’t take potions. This means that to treat depression they undergo either talk therapy or take prescriptions. While therapy is also highly encouraged within the magical world, our medicinal way of treating things is a lot more efficient. Many Muggle antidepressants take weeks to months to start working, as it has to build up in the body. With potions, the effects are immediate. As soon as someone starts taking the Elixir to Induce Euphoria or the Temperament Modifying Potion, the effects begin to work and allow them to start living an emotionally normal life. We’re really quite lucky in this way!  

A famous potioneer, Drake Blairmont, actually suffered from depression! It was his research that laid the groundwork for the Temperament Modifying Potion. He wanted to find a way to deal with his depression without forcing himself to feel constantly happy all the time. While he unfortunately committed suicide before he finished his work, without the research he did accomplish, we may not have had the Temperament Modifying Potion yet...or ever! Isn’t that a scary thought? That potion is used to treat no less than three major mental illnesses!

We’re also going to talk about the Spoon Theory. While we’ll be discussing it in reference to mental illnesses, please note that this theory is also used for those with chronic physical illnesses as well! The Spoon Theory is used to describe the amount of energy that a person has to complete certain tasks.

When one does not suffer from a type of illness, they most often have an unlimited supply of spoons. A spoon is used to measure the amount of energy a person has and the amount of energy a task can take. When suffering from an illness, a person often only has a set number of spoons. For instance, someone with major depressive disorder may wake up and only have fifteen spoons to get through the day. Getting out of bed could take one spoon, brushing their teeth another, and fixing and eating breakfast could take two or three depending on the person. The amount of spoons a person wakes up with and how much each task takes really depends on the individual person. However, once a spoon is used, it is gone for the day. For most, the only way to replenish spoons is to sleep. People who suffer from illnesses often have to plan out their day based on the number of spoons that they wake up with. Some things may have to get pushed to another day in order to be able to get done. For instance, if someone is at the end of their day and only has one spoon left, they may choose to use that spoon to eat dinner, instead of doing the laundry that needs done. It’s important to note that these people aren’t lazy. They simply do not have the required energy to have the ability to complete these tasks.

This theory originated back in 2003 and was actually coined by a Muggle woman named Christine Miserandino. She actually wrote about it on her blog after speaking with her friend, trying to explain what it was like to live with a chronic disability. The two were in a diner and spoons are what Christine happened to have next to her when trying to explain. She handed her friend twelve spoons and made her take away for each activity throughout the day to try and show the limited amount of energy someone with a chronic disability. Using the analogy of spoons was how she got her friend to understand, and when others saw what she had created, it spread quickly!

Here’s a video of Christine Miserandino explaining it herself!

I hope that this lesson gave you a better understanding of depression as a whole and why it is so important that we help these people. No one deserves to live their lives like that. Please note that you’ll have a research assignment for your homework. I look forward to seeing you all next lesson.


Welcome to Fifth Year Potions! This year we will be discussing and exploring potions relating to Psychology and the mind. I look forward to seeing you in the dungeons! Enroll