I Had a Black Dog – Matthew Johnstone

Published 2007 by Constable & Robinson (first published August 1st 2005)
Author: Matthew Johnstone
Genre: Health/mental health, non-fiction, self-help
Pages: 48
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Opening line:

“Looking back, Black Dog had been in and out of my life since my early twenties.”

Goodreads synopsis:

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.

I found this book in my university library when I was looking for a completely different book. When I saw the title, I knew that I’d heard about it so there was no hesitation when I decided to borrow it.

I read it that same evening and it took within 15 minutes from beginning to end, maybe even 10.

The format is easy, the subject matter is difficult emotionally, but this is a good thing because it’s about understanding and awareness.

Essentially, this is a picture book that explains depression by using the often used term ‘black dog’ which a lot of us will know as being a term that Winston Churchill used to describe depression.

It might not automatically be clear how depression can be a ‘black dog’, but this book clears it up and shows us, through illustrations and succinct wording, that the term befits the illness.

The illustrations aren’t just simple pictures that you’ll find in a children’s book. They don’t just tell a story. They are clever, but subtle. Subtle, but emotional in the way the black dog is portrayed in each picture.

The black dog isn’t instantly recognisable when you first look at each picture, but it’s always there one way or another. There is only one instance where the black dog isn’t in the picture, and that’s on a good day.

The size of the dog matters too in conveying the weight that depression has on people, and this was one of the most overwhelming aspects of the book for me. It can get bigger, it can get smaller, but the fact is it’s there, and you don’t know what size it might be tomorrow.

My favourite page of the whole book is the penultimate one. It made me laugh because of the expression on the black dog’s face. Matthew Johnstone has hit the nail on the head.

Note: I do not have depression, but I do suffer with my mental health in other ways and have my own form of a black dog. So although mine isn’t depression, I am still moved by and can relate to this book.

Link to the book on Goodreads: I Had a Black Dog



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