Black Dog Depression (A comprehensive guide)

In this guide, we will discuss what “Black Dog Depression” means. 

Black Dog Depression: What does it mean?

You may be familiar already with Black Dog Depression if you are suffering or dealing with depression on a daily basis.

If you are still not familiar and this is the very first time you hear the phrase “Black Dog Depression” is a metaphor attributed to Winston Churchill to refer to someone living with depression.

For someone living with depression this can be a very accurate term, but Why?.

A dog is a synonym for companionship, and like depression, it is accompanying you every step you take. 

Writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone tell the story of overcoming the “Balck Dog Depression” in collaboration with the World Health Organization, bringing awareness of depression during World Mental Health Day.

His book can be found ion the “recommended reading” section below.  Also, you can find the video on the WHO youtube channel or by clicking here.

Depression can become very disabling and many people often feel misunderstood and isolated because everyone seems to have an opinion about it but no one seems to really understand what they are actually going through.

True, it can be a disabling mental illness but it is also manageable and treatable.

What you have to figure out is how to unleash the collar of your black dog to start taking your first steps into a different way of living with depression. 

What is depression?

For those who are not familiar with depression or if you are already living with the fact that your black dog is always there, lurking in the shadows, growling at you and waiting to sink its teeth every time he gets the chance, then this might help you understand a bit more about what is happening. 

We have to understand the difference between feeling down and being depressed.

Feeling down at times is normal since we have things going on in our lives that can make us feel that way.

But what happens when that feeling doesn’t seem to go away?

Depression is often described as an intense feeling of sadness and hopelessness that,  in comparison to feeling down, it stays with us for longer than two weeks.

This feeling can affect our lives significantly and the way we relate and interact with others.

Black Dog Depression: are there any symptoms?

You won’t actually find “Balck Dog Depression” listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (which is basically the bible for mental health professionals), instead, you can find the diagnostic criteria for Depression. 

The DSM-5, the most recent and updated version, outlines the following diagnostic criteria: 

  • An individual must be experiencing 5 or more symptoms during the same 2 week period and one of the symptoms should be either: depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day (may be subjective or observed by others)
  2. Markedly or diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day or nearly every day (may be subjective or observed by others)
  3. A significant weight loss (without dieting) or gaining weight, or a decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia, nearly every day. 
  5. Significant reduction in your physical activity or movement and a slowing down of thought. 
  6. Feeling drained or fatigued nearly every day. 
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive/inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  8. Decreased concentration, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  9. Suicidal thoughts (recurrent thoughts of death), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or plan for committing suicide.
  • In addition, these symptoms need to cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 
  • The episode is not attributable to medical conditions or substance abuse. 
  • Differential diagnosis with schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, delusional disorder ot other specified or unspecified schizophrenia spectrum or other psychiatric disorder. 
  • No history of manic or hypomanic episodes. 

Self-test “Black Dog Depression”

Here is a Depression self-test from the Black Dog Institute.

There, you can identify if you are depressed and when to seek for help.

How to fight the Black Dog Depression?

Here are some steps we consider useful fighting the Black Dog Depression:

  1. Start by listening to your body. It will tell you when the Black Dog Depression might be coming or if it is already on the premises. Don’t panic, just recognize it is a possibility that is just lurking in the shadows waiting to strike. 
  2. Be prepared. Start by determining what triggers your depression and how to effectively handle it when the time comes. Don’t let the Balck Dog caught you off guard. Realize you have the power to fight back with the appropriate tools.
  3. Regain control. Find a way of regaining control and if you feel too overwhelmed or paralyzed look for someone that can help you. If the way of regaining control over the Big Black Dog called Depression is assisting to therapy or getting a drug treatment then you need to make a plan. Including your family, friends or partner may be a good idea for emotional support.
  4. Look into the black dog’s eyes and tell him you are not letting him control you anymore. It can be scary, daunting and maybe you can feel too overwhelmed, but keep looking into those eyes because soon enough he will get tired and surrender., giving back the control.
  5. Slowly separate yourself from the dog. Understanding that he doesn’t need to be everywhere you go will let you concentrate and focus on sticking to your initial plan and walking towards a better life. 

Black Dog Depression: Living with a Black Dog

Now that we have seen what it means to be depressed and also some useful tips for you to fight back.

We will focus on the video from the WHO titled “Living with a Black Dog a guide for partners, carers and sufferers”.

These are the things we are not supposed to say or do when someone is battling with their Black Dog:

  1. Saying things link “it’s all in your head” or “be a man” won’t help at all, it can be true that it is all in their heads but it is quite difficult enough for the people they love to keep adding to the burden. Giving out orders on what they should be doing or what you consider based on your experience is not going to make them change. It will make them feel as no one understands them.
  2. Being thoughtful and kind will not go unnoticed but don’t try putting them in the spotlight or jolly them along because it will actually make them feel worse.
  3.  Don’t point out that there are kids in Africa dying from hunger or people far worse than them because it will have the opposite effect, they will feel even more guilty for feeling the way they are.

These are the thing that you could do:

  1. Be sensitive when approaching the subject and a lot of people feel uncomfortable or are just not used to talk about their mental health. They just need to feel someone cares.
  2. Try to avoid being judgemental and simply listen to what they have to say. 
  3. Encourage them to seek professional advice but without being too pushy. Finding a good doctor, helping them make the appointment and even coming along can be beneficial. 
  4. Encourage any form of exercise or healthy lifestyle habits. This will actually help to make them feel better. 
  5. Help them find strategies to cope with stress at home or at work. Less stress means a step towards unleashing the dog. 
  6. Help them in making a “Ditch the dog box” encourage them to fill it with photographs from good memories and activities they used to enjoy, short and long term goals and even keep a track of their progress. This will help them consider what is good in their lives. 

Why is this blog about Black Dog Depression important?

It is extremely important to understand what being depressed means, not only for the person suffering from it but for everyone around them.

This helps raise awareness for those who are actually in need of help. 

As we just discussed, depression can become a very disabling mental illness but it can also be treatable so you or someone you know can unleash the black dog and start living a better life.

It is true depression might not go away entirely or just disappear but it can be managed in a way the person knows when he/she is feeling depressed and how to act. 

Please feel free to comment about your experience with depression or on the content on the comments section down below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Black Dog Depression

Why do they call depression the black dog?

They call depression the black dog because it is accompanying you every step of the way just like a regular dog would and it acknowledges that depression can cast a black shadow into the sufferer. 

What does the black dog represent?

The blag dog represents how it feels to live with depression, it is a metaphor used to describe when someone is battling with depression. 

Can a dog be depressed?

Even if dogs cant actually be depressed like humans do, it doesn’t mean they cannot experience depression.

They can actually show symptoms such as being withdrawn, lethargic and even sad.

Who coined the term black dog?

The term black dog was first coined by the Roman poet Horace and then adopted by Winston Churchill who referred to his depression as “the black dog”

How many people have depression in the world?

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression considering the world’s leading cause of disability.

  1. I Had a Black Dog
  2. Living with a Black Dog
  3. Taming the Black Dog: How to Beat Depression – a Practical Manual for Sufferers, Their Relatives and Their Colleagues
  4. Journeys With the Black Dog: Inspirational stories of bringing depression to heel
  5. Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink 


Psych Central