Nonfiction Book Review: I Had a Black Dog, by Matthew Johnstone
Reviewed by Sally Murphy
An illuminating insight into depression.
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.
Since Winston Churchill coined the phrase Black Dog to describe his own struggle with depression, the term has been a popular metaphor for the affliction. Clinical depression affects one in four women and one in six men during their lifetime. It affected author Matthew Johnstone and inspired him to write a book about it.
This is no ordinary book. Johnstone uses a format more familiar to readers of comic books or picture books, with large, cartoon-style illustrations and limited text. However, the tone is not light, as Johnstone explores the effects of depression and the ways it can be overcome. Throughout the book depression is characterised as a black dog, who appears in every picture impacting on the male character. When Johnstone talks about depression impacting on his relationships, taking my love and burying my intimacy, the black dog is there, in the middle of the bed between the character and his wife. When the character sits at a bar, drinking, the black dog is there perched on the next stool. Even when the character brings depression under control, the black dog is still there – but kept firmly on a leash.
This book will speak to all those who have been affected by depression – either first-hand, or through knowing a sufferer. Its appeal is in it simplicity – it is a quick read, but deeply effective.
A wonderful addition to library, health service offices and, of course, home collections.
I Had a Black Dog, written and illustrated by Matthew JohnstonePan, 2005