Sharing Stories – I had a Black Dog Review – GUEST

Leeds Book Club will be participating in the Arts and Minds Network‘s new project on raising awareness of mental health issues. 

This review is provided to us by regular book clubber @MildlyConfused. Barbara is epic, to the tips of her toes and I’m delighted to welcome her to the blogging gang (I believe that you’ve already met EVERYONE). 


There are many different breeds of Black Dog affecting millions of people from all walks of life. The Black Dog is an equal opportunity mongrel. It was Winston Churchill who popularized the phrase Black Dog to describe the bouts of depression he experienced for much of his life. Matthew Johnstone, a sufferer himself, has written and illustrated this moving and uplifting insight into what it is like to have a Black Dog as a companion and how he learned to tame it and bring it to heel.

When I agreed to write a review of one of #sharingstories books, I chose to review a
book I was not familiar with so I could approach it without any preconceptions. Like
most people, I was familiar with the term “black dog”, used famously by Winston
Churchill to refer to depression, but that was all I knew about the book. After reading
I Had a Black Dog, I felt that I had a far greater understanding of what it must be like to live with depression.

My first comment on the book is that it is very short and I would perhaps classify it as
being a picture book. I found it clever, easy to read, easy to understand and very
informative. It is also one of the most approachable non-fiction books I have read.
The author writes in plain English and does not use jargon at any point. He manages
to convey the way depression can affect everyday life in a very simple, accessible
manner. It is a book that can be read from cover to cover or it can be dipped into.

Perhaps the cleverest and most rewarding aspects of the book are in the
illustrations. There are very few words on each page. Words are not needed. I
know it is an awful cliché to say a picture paints a thousand words, but in this book,
the illustrations do just that: the book is a very visual representation of depression
expressed through the image of the Black Dog. The illustrations are inspired yet
simple, and often surreal. They bring wittiness and humour to the book without
undermining the seriousness of the subject. The author’s Black Dog is not a
frightening or angry image. It is, however, a constant companion colouring the way
the character views and copes with life. There is no escape from it. It appears at
unexpected moments. One of my favourite images and the one that possibly held
most meaning for me was the one of the Black Dog in the form of sunglasses. I
think this image most clearly helped me understand what living with depression must
be like and how it affects the way you view life. Another powerful image shows the
character on all fours with the Black Dog superimposed on his body. His life had
been completely taken over by depression. The device of using the size of the Black
Dog to express the effect depression has on the sufferer in differing situations is a
very good visual tool.

Above all, I found this to be is a positive book. The statistics in the foreword make
sobering reading. We learn that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 to 8 men will have an
episode of depression at some time in their lives, and women are twice as vulnerable
as men. However, Matthew Johnstone shows us that while depression cannot be
cured, it can be managed with professional help and by exploring self-help options.
The Black Dog will always be present but strategies are there to help live with the
Black Dog and to keep him down in size. By the end of the book, the Black Dog has
been tamed. He is to heel and on the end of a leash.

In my opinion, Matthew Johnstone has written an excellent book in which he shares
with us his experiences of living with depression. I would thoroughly recommend
reading this perceptive and inspiring book. It has something for everyone. It can be
read by those suffering from depression, those supporting people suffering from
depression and by those wishing to learn more about depression.


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