Back in 2014, before world suicide prevention day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a popular video on YouTube called “I have a black dog and his name is depression.” The video caught my attention and initially bothered the dog lover in me.
Depression the black dog
The video describes depression as a black dog, which stops the narrator from doing anything. It’s a dog that has him working overtime to hide its existence and the dog is making him do things, like being gloomy or snappy. Furthermore, the more you give into it, the more the dog keeps growing in stature and never leaves your side. As the narrator kept fighting it alone, the black dog took over his life and with no joy in life, he questioned the purpose of life itself. He self-medicated through vices and addictions and even that didn’t help.
One day he couldn’t take it anymore and he reached out for professional help. This was the first step to recovery. He suggests various things to overcome the effect of the black dog – like exercise, making your friends and family understand what you’re going through and making a conscious effort to be less stressed and anxious.
Slowly, but surely, the narrator starts to feel happy and the black dog becomes smaller and visits him less frequently. As a parting note, he says that he may never be able to get rid of the black dog, but he has an understanding with it. If anything, the black dog made him realise he should embrace his flaws and shortcomings as opposed to ignore them.
But why a dog?
Through the course of the video, I couldn’t understand why the dog, which is a caring and loving creature, was a metaphor for something as horrible as depression. And that’s where I was wrong. The effects of depression are horrible, but many causes of depression plague each and every person in the world. And just like a dog, maintaining your mental health is a great responsibility. The more I thought about it, the more the metaphor made sense. Imagine getting a dog and not tending to it or training it to behave – it can turn your world upside down.
Upon further research, I found out that the video was an adaptation of Kiwi-born Matthew Johnstone’s 2007 illustrative book “I had a black dog”. It is a short read and the entire book was summarised in the video. It is highly recommended by readers and reviewers alike and Johnstone is an acclaimed author and speaker.
Learn more about the black dog here – https://matthewjohnstone.com.au
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