One metaphor that is commonly used when describing Depression, is the concept of Depression being a ‘Black Dog.’ A strange metaphor, you might think, and rightfully so when we consider that Depression has no links to animals of any kind, for it is a mental illness, not a species of animal. So, why do we use the term ‘Black Dog’ in our descriptions of Depression? Todays blog post will see me attempting to answer this very question.
Origins of the ‘Black Dog’
‘Black Dog’ was first coined as a metaphor for describing Depression in the Roman era, with it being introduced by Roman poet ‘Horace’ as long ago as 65BC (that being over 2000 years ago.) The term was later adopted by Winston Churchill who, in his use of the term to describe his own experiences with Depression, brought it into the ‘mainstream’/made the term as popular as it is today.
Churchill described his Depression as that of a ‘Black Dog’, because the illness was something that would ‘follow him wherever he went’, with it never being far away, always ready and waiting like a shadow, just lurking in the background to ‘sit on his lap’, and ‘weigh him down’ (these very much being characteristics of dogs.)
But, why is the term ‘Black Dog’ actually used?
Well, we can look at it from two perspectives. The first relating to the ‘dog’ element of the well-known saying (a.k.a. ‘man’s best friend.’)
The very nature of a dog sees them expressing fierce and persistent loyalty to their owners, with them never being far away- they are ever-present and always waiting for their owner to return to them. This can be likened to Depression then, whereby, people sense that Depression is something that is always there, and that, even when they are not in Depressions direct company, Depression is waiting on ‘standby’ for their return.
Alternatively, we can view it from the second perspective, looking at what the colour black symbolises.
So, what does black symbolise?
Historically, black is said to represent death, mourning, ‘evil magic’, and darkness. These words undoubtedly conjure up negative imagery, the type of imagery that is similarly conjured up when one considers what ‘Depression’ means.
The combined symbolism of both dogs and the colour black are what make up the term ‘black dog’-the idea of a dog that is always ‘lingering’ at their owner’s heels demanding their attention, and the idea of the colour black and the darkness that such a colour represents.
‘Black Dog’ is therefore a good metaphor that one can use to describe what Depression often feels like- relentless, and uncontrollable, shrouded in darkness and clinging to its ‘inhabitant’ like an ever-present dog does to its owner.
Ultimately, though, we should name our Depression in the way that most relates to our own personal experiences. For some people, this will be the ‘Black Dog’, whereas for other people, they might choose to refer to it as ‘an unwelcome visitor’, or any other term they see fit, whether that be a metaphorical term such as a ‘dog’ or a ‘visitor’, or simply the term itself, ‘Depression.’ There can be no right or wrong way to describe something that is so individualistic, varying greatly from person to person.
So, choose any term you see fit, and embrace it.