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
- World Mental Health Day (on kiwi time) (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- “Churchill’s Black Dog?: The History of the ‘Black Dog’ as a Metaphor for Depression.” (blackdoginstitute.org.au)
- World Mental Health Day: Defeating the dog called Depression (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- Are Black Dogs Less Lovable? (psychologytoday.com)
- The Black Dog and the Virtual World (nettiethomson.com)