What’s that story about a “Black Dog” again?
A Cross Cultural Metaphor for Depression
I had to unlearn the source of this metaphor whilst planning this post. The phrase “Black Dog” is most famously attributed to Winston Churchills description of his lifelong bouts with his depression. I discovered that this term was used by Victorian nannies in the 1700’s who called the dark moods of the children they cared for “Black Dogs”.
The 2018 Adams Play Award, written by Jason Te Mete (Tuatara Collective) was brought to life for audiences this year by the talented Manukau of Technology (MIT) Performing Arts students.
Jason has successfully tied the current media focus in New Zealand on the extraordinarily high suicide rates within Māori and Pasifika youth and more specifically to the young men in these communities.
In (what we think may be a world first) a collaboration of the MIT Performing Arts and Counselling Departments on site counselling support was organised. For safety the show was opened by Te Mete with a trigger warning and because of the confrontational topic of the play students and audience members alike were offered five free counselling sessions through MIT. I was honoured to be asked to be the on-site counselling support should anyone be triggered during the shows. (it was a busy time for me).
The audience follow a teenage boy trying to cope with the loss of a friend and family member after they have committed suicide. The suicides impact his wellbeing in unforeseen ways. His friendship with a small black dog previously owned by his close friend who committed suicide brings him relief whilst simultaneously taking him to some very dark places.
Through a series of every day and fantastical interactions the main character shows us his battles with mental health. By using mythology, Waiata (song), dance and comedy the audience experience a series of unbalancing highs and lows as they journey through the thoughts and feelings, from the point of view of the lead characters. You can read reviews here and here.
This story about dark moods travels across cultural and societal borders and is evidence that suicide and depression is an issue that touches each of us belongs to everyone no matter your culture, age or status. You can find New Zealand’s suicide statistics here.
Just as I learned that the source of a story can be misattributed and lost in history, till it is effectively silenced, so SILENCE keeps the lived truth of suicide and depression from being understood and acted on more widely. It’s time to korero with our government, leaders, communities and whanau openly about suicide. Youth suicide, suicide in men, suicide in the aged and suicide in Māori and Pasifika communities – all suicide in Aotearoa.
We should follow the lead of this exceptional cast of young persons that brought that moody dog called Depression front and centre. Talking about the tough stuff in our homes and communities.
If you think depression may be affecting your daily life or the life of someone you know watching this video may clarify some things for you.
I have a black dog, his name is Depression
If you are in a relationship with, the parent, friend, colleague of or caregiver to someone and you would like to know more about how someone with depression may be experiencing the world please watch this video.
For those of you working with others in agencies and public health situations, the World Suicide Prevention Day takes place on 10th September this year. Click here to download banners in 75 languages to support Suicide awareness.
For ways to find out more or take part in online confidential tests to support you please visit depression.org.nz