Since ancient times, depression, or melancholia, has been depicted as a black dog. This is likely due to the dogged loyalty of a depressed mood and the darkness associated with it. Depression is more than just being a little down or experiencing a temporary sadness, feelings we all experience occasionally. It is a serious illness which causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest. Depression affects nearly 1 in 10 people every year, and is the leading cause of disability in North America. It has significant repercussions for self-esteem, health, relationships, and work.
Given that depression has such a significant impact, it is important to understand more about this animal–its habits, behaviours, and handling. Looking at depression objectively, like a naturalist following an animal in its habitat, can help see what it looks like and what it may feed on. This is important because depression can affect self-esteem, preventing you from seeing things realistically. In fact, self-criticism can increase feelings of hopelessness. Family, friends, or coworkers can respond in ways that are counter-productive, telling you to just “snap out of it,” “get over it,” or “pull up your socks.” Understanding is the key feeling better.
Depression affects everyone differently and there is no set way of dealing with it that suits all. Like real dogs, each mood has common traits and its own unique personality. There are some general guidelines, however. The following video from the World Health Organization (Matthew Johnstone illustrator) is a good overview of depression and treatment. (No insult is intended to real black dogs.) This video offers a balanced perspective as it does not judge or condemn depression. In the guise of a black dog, it shows a few effective ways of responding to it, including learning to be emotionally authentic and genuine, keeping a journal of thoughts and emotions, and going for a walk. Among the things real dogs can teach us is that walks, emotional connection, and allowing ourselves time are very good for us.
Counselling is an effective resource in dealing with depression. If you have any concerns about depression, speak with me. I can help you with tools suited to your specific challenges.