Meet Duncan… A Black Dog

To bring a close to my posts related to Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m taking a different approach.  I really hope that as a result of the awareness challenge, that someone can feel more supported by their friends and family as they fight for mental health.  I hope that someone has a better understanding of the challenges involved in achieving mental health for some of us.  I hope people are talking more about mental health and mental illness.  I hope people are more prepared to help us fight stigma.  But meantime, I am a little concerned.  For the black dogs of our world.

But meantime, I am a little concerned.  For the black dogs of our world.

Many of us know how hard it is to be stuck with labels but imagine how hard it must be to be seen as a representation of something as awful and destructive as Depression.  Yes, I’m talking about the poor black dog.

Winston Churchill is the one who made famous the connection between a black dog and depression.  He described his depression as a black dog.  But actually, the connection started back as early as Greek and Roman mythology, where a black dog was symbolic of the foretelling of death.  I’m not going to bore you with a complete history lesson, except to say that there is more reading below if you are interested.

This week, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to mark World Mental Health Day, writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone (originally a kiwi of course) told the story on You Tube of overcoming the “black dog of depression”, adapted from his book, Living With a Black Dog.  This four minute clip has been flying around social media, but if you haven’t yet seen it, have a look here:

It’s pretty good isn’t it?  And I think what Matthew Johnstone and WHO have done is excellent in promoting awareness of Depression.  But to tell you the truth, I’m slightly concerned about the reputation black dogs are getting.  The rate we’re going they will be in as much danger as Big Bird.  To assist me in my attempt to restore their reputation, I have the help of Duncan, my six month old canine nephew.

As you can no doubt see, Duncan is a black dog but I can assure you that he is not depressed, nor is he adding to anyone’s depression.  Duncan is an over-grown, exuberant puppy.  He’s very enthusiastic, although not too good with commands yet.  Thankfully I had the assistance of one of my nephews in getting Duncan to stay still for the photo shoot.  The only thing about Duncan that is anywhere near Depression is that he gets lonely when the family are off to work and school.  Lonely yes, but not depressed.  There is a huge difference.  As soon as anyone comes into view or even sniffing distance, Duncan is back to his cheerful self.

I accept this is a bit of a silly post, but it does concern me that as we spread the word about Depression awareness, we aren’t painting a good picture of black dogs as a whole.  Matthew Johnstone’s book is an excellent description of Depression, and for that reason I am in total favour of it.  But is it fair on the real black dogs of the world?  It’s one thing to use a pink ribbon, or a lime green one for that matter.  But a black dog?  I certainly wouldn’t like it if I were a black dog.

In attempting to demolish stigma of mental illness, and in particular Depression, I wonder if we might be worsening stigma against black dogs?  Duncan is not happy ( yes, he did tell me) and on behalf of him, I feel I should do something if that is the case.

What do you think?  Am I simply off the planet?  If you have a black dog, what does your dog think about this?

And to finish, some wise words from the man himself.  It is absolutely nothing to do with black dogs, but everything to do with Depression.

“We have not journeyed all this way because we are
made of sugar candy.” 

―    Winston  Churchill


32 thoughts on “Meet Duncan… A Black Dog

  1. Norelle

    I live with two black dogs and they are never depressed!! They don’t even get depressed when we leave for a short time, because they have comfy cozy crates that they love. They get a treat each time they go into their crates & actually race each other to see who can get into their crate first. I may get a little frustrated at having to sweep up their black dog hair constantly – one look into their goofy faces and big black eyes and I can’t help myself, I have to smile. I agree and so do my sweet pups, black dogs do not characterize depression!!

  2. John Richardson

    Thanks for posting. I have a facebook friend who is depressed. I’m sending her to your site and this article. Your tender heart and willingness to help others is greatly appreciated.

    1. NZ Cate

      Thanks Carolyn. I have to admit that I feel a little nervous about questioning Winston Churchill, but I suspect he’s big enough to take it. 🙂

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  4. sonamsangmu

    Yay! I’m happy you’re standing up for black dogs. It’s a shame they get stigmatized. They’re the most likely to get euthenized at kill shelters, usually for the single reason they are black.

    Duncan looks like a lovely boy 😀

    1. NZ Cate

      Duncan is gorgeous, even though he has already destroyed one pair of my shoes. 🙂 Got to love him anyway. I am heartbroken by what you said about what happens at shelters, I didn’t know that. That is so wrong. 😦

      1. sonamsangmu

        Yes, sadly it’s what happens here in North America. I don’t know if the same thing happens at Australian kill shelters. Does Australia have kill shelters? N.A. has some shelters that don’t kill but quite a few that do. The black dogs and cats are usually killed the most 😦

      2. NZ Cate

        I’m in New Zealand, not Australia but I’m not sure what happens with dogs although I know black cats are the least popular. Personally I love black cats too but then like people, I dont’ see what skin/fur colour has to do with anything. 🙂

      3. sonamsangmu

        LOL, sorry NZ Cate! I am a dummy with geography. NZ is close to Australia though, right? Sorry! I sound as bad as Americans are to us Canadians. I apologize.

        Maybe it’s superstition or something, you know black cats being bad luck? or black dogs associated with depression? IDK 😦

      4. sonamsangmu

        Okay! thanks. I’ll blame my lack of brains on my allergic rhinitis which has been driving me batty for a couple of days now 😉 Seriously though, I knew NZ wasn’t in Australia but I lose IQ pts when suffering from my allergies. It’s embarrassing. Ah well 😛

  5. I love this post! The way that Johnstone explains depression is so spot on and I found myself in everything he was describing. I do, though, also have an issue with the black dog analogy. I used to have a black lab when I was a kid. He was such a joy and I miss him every single day. He brought me nothing but love, and I often feel like if I still had him with me on this earth, then he’d still be bringing that same love and comfort. So, I have to say that black dogs are beautiful and have zero connection with depression for me. I still do very much appreciate and respect the video that Johnstone put out there, though. It’s a wonderful way to help others better understand who are outside of the depression spectrum, and also help give hope to those who are in the very center of its existence.

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    1. Knowing Duncan, I think you’re right. He’s simply gorgeous and I’m not the slightest bit biased. My only issue is that I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I’d like, and if I kidnap him, they will know where to look first. 😉

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