The Black Dog Still Barks

At first glance, it appears that he was born with all the advantages. Certainly he was born into wealth and prominence. He was, after all, born at Blenheim Palace and was a descendant of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. He has a politician-father, Lord Randolph, the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. His mother was Jennie Jerome (née Jeanette Jerome) of Brooklyn, New York, a daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome. It is not surprising that he would do well in the world of politics with all these advantages political, social, and even financial advantages.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was a British politician and is best remembered as Britain’s Prime Minister who tool over after the fall of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. He was Britain’s prime minister throughout World War II and stepped down shortly after the victory against Germany. Sir Winston Churchill was elected twice as Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was in some way involved in British public life for sixty years. However, he is mostly remembered for his outstanding leadership during World War II. He was also awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1953.

Although Churchill gained tremendous popularity during World War II, Sir Winston had to go another war…he waged war against depression.

Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. Like Churchill, there are more than 20 million people in the United States who are afflicted with depression, a morose feeling that does not seem to go away. It’s more than just a feeling of being “blue” or “empty” for a few days. Symptoms of depression persist and interfere with everyday life.

Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have the disorder but also on other people around them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the ill person. But much of this suffering is unnecessary.

Depression can run in families, and usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30. It is much more common in women. However, not everyone who is depressed or manic-depressive experiences every symptom. Some people experience a few symptoms, while some can suffer from all the manifestations of “clinical sadness.” Severity of symptoms varies with individuals and also varies over time. These are some of the more common symptoms of this disease:

· Sadness
· Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
· Weight loss
· Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
· Energy loss
· Feelings of worthlessness
· Thoughts of death or suicide

Churchill admitted that he had gone through those symptoms. He even coined the term “Black Dog” for his own struggle with depression. So what’s with a dog? The dog and man have a long and complex history of interaction. In both classical and contemporary iconography and symbolisms, such as in art, literature, popular culture and the images of ancient mythologies, a myriad of canine incarnations appear as figures whose presence resonates with a significance beyond the contours of their physical form.

Through representations of classical mythology, dogs menace, pollute, and patrol borders, both earthly and supernatural. Still, dogs are also reconized for their ability to protect and act as symbols of loyalty and fidelity. In a modern setting, people use “dogs” to coin a variety of phrases with different meanings. These phrases are include “we let sleeping dogs lie”… “we go to the dogs or die like a dog”… “we dog someone at every turn” or compete in a “dog-eat-dog” environment. And when we put a name to our depression such as “black dog”, it only means that our sadness always lurks behind us, clinging tenaciously at our backs. Churchill drew upon this image to conceptualize his own struggle with depression, and it is with him that the metaphor is generally attributed to.

In Australia, there is an research facility that was inspired from Churchill’s metaphor. The facility, which also serves as an educational institution in a community setting, is called The Black Dog Institute. It offers specialist expertise in mood disorders that include depression and Bipolar Disorder (formerly called “manic depression”). The Institute is attached to the Prince of Wales Hospital and affiliated with the University of New South Wales. The logo of the Black Dog Institute refers to and respects Churchill’s symbol of his own depression.

Fortunately, unlike Churchill’s time, there are effective treatments for overcoming depression, including antidepressant prescriptions, counseling, or talk therapy. Most people do best by using a combination of two or more treatment methods. The most important thing that anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment, which are the only means to have an effective and immediate recovery. The second best thing is to offer emotional support. This involves giving the depressed person a lot of understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement.

The logo of the Black Dog Institute is a victory sign that has a shadow of a figure of a black dog. It provides a metaphor for a disorder that is constantly lurking in the background. It acknowledges that depression can indeed shadow the sufferer, even when the mood is upbeat and “victorious.” Just as Churchill’s sign proved stronger than the evil it opposed, the logo carries the suggestion that the positive should and still be more powerful than the negative.