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Depression - Walking with the Black Dog

Updated on February 5, 2017
Black Dog by Rachel Howard
Black Dog by Rachel Howard

Walking with the black dog

Sir Winston Churchill was prime Minister of Britain from 1940 – 45 and 1951 – 55.

Depression was a major part of his life and he used the phrase ‘Black Dog’ as a euphemism when talking to family and friends.

It is an apt description for a condition which affects so many across the world.

The phrase has been used since Celtic times to describe something dark, threatening, sinister, overwhelming. In medieval period it was linked to the word melancholy. Foley (2005) suggests that Churchill’s nanny may well have passed on the phrase when speaking of him to others.

Foley (2005) also relates that on a day when he was not particularly pleased to see visitors Churchill would say “I have got a black dog on my back today” to give reason for his low grumpy demeanour.

How many find this Black Dog on their back, or walking behind or beside them in day to day life? To use a phrase from Foley's (2005) paper on the history of the phrase – how many find it ‘emblematic for disquiet of one’s own soul’?

Partners, children and families often don't know how to cope with their loved ones in this dark time.

Authors have used this metaphor in many self help books. One author in particular – Matthew Johnstone – has a series of well written and thoughtful books on the subject of the Black Dog; both from an individual’s perspective and also for those living with a loved one that is suffering from depression.

These two books – ‘I had a black dog’ and ‘Living with a black dog’ are published by Robinson and as a simple, easy to understand guide to depression and how to deal with it, for sufferers and their families; I've found them useful to recommend to those I see with depression in the course of my work.

There are other titles which use the theme of the Black Dog in advising how to help with depression.

I hope that you may find them as helpful as I have.


Foley, Paul; ‘Black dog’ as a metaphor for depression: a brief history; Jan 2005

See hyperlink below


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    • Rebecca2904 profile image

      Rebecca 5 years ago

      Interesting hub! I've only ever heard the phrase once before in song 'Dog' by Andy Bull feat Lisa Mitchell, I had no idea Churchill used it regularly as well. I'd recommend the song by Lisa Mitchell to anyone, it's got so many great quotes about depression including: 'if I could pull myself together I'd try, oh I can't explain the tear that sits in my eye.'

    • BeiYin profile image

      BeiYin 7 years ago from Ibiza Spain

      To give another name as the common one doesn't make anything more clear and more important, it doesn't help to overcome ones condition. In this conceptual world where the established mindset is so strong and people are kept in their dull and numb condition, it is the common attitude to be satisfied by knowing a name of something, there is no motivation to question something and to make changes of the rootcause. A real help would be to help people to help themselves, showing a way to get out of their dependencies, to take self responsibility and then take action. Every thing else is the usual turning around oneself joining the games of this fake reality, created and kept by all humans in this society...

      Or is there something that is NOT part of the common mindset? Very seldom and when something shows up, then it is ignored or rejected. That's a fact and part of our reality we don't want to see...

    • dragonbear profile image

      dragonbear 7 years ago from Essex UK

      Glad it was of help shareitt

    • shareitt profile image

      shareitt 7 years ago

      This is a new phrase for me...knowing is good. Thanks.

    • Nordy profile image

      Nordy 7 years ago from Canada

      Very interesting hub Dragonbear, and well written. Welcome aboard, looking forward to reading more of your hubs!

    • Sab Oh profile image

      Sab Oh 7 years ago

      Very well done!

    • mikelong profile image

      mikelong 7 years ago from The largest convict colony in the United States

      Well written and well said...

      Welcome aboard..

    • Madison22 profile image

      Madison 8 years ago from NYC

      I did not know this. Very informative hub, I am definitely going to look into those books and links. Thank you drangonbear!

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 8 years ago from Washington MI

      Hi Vince,

      Awesome article. I have heard the phrase but never knew where it originated from. I would have to say it fits perfectly when one is in the grips of depression. I enjoyed this hub, I hope you write more.

      Boo :)

    • dragonbear profile image

      dragonbear 8 years ago from Essex UK

      Thanks Lady_E; we're never too old to learn eh? :-)

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Interesting Article - First time I've heard of it. (you learn something new everyday hey). Welcome to HP.

    • dragonbear profile image

      dragonbear 8 years ago from Essex UK

      My first comment! Thanks Dolores - glad it's shed some light on the store's name. The work by Paul Foley is an interesting read and it surprised me how far back the dog has been used as a metaphor. Thanks for my first comment on my first hub! :-)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Have never heard the expression before, but it sounds so apt. I've been to a very interesting shop called the Black Dog, an artistic antique store with an interestingly odd proprietor. This gives the shop a whole new perspective.