Many of you know our dogs, Coco and Belle; they are small, white, beloved members of our family. My mom had two bichon frises; Coco (short for Coconut) was the only female in their first litter of puppies. My mom brought Coco to us in Jordan when she was 9 months old (she’s 12 years old now) and we found another bichon in Jordan (coincidentally named Ricky) to breed with her when she was 4 years old. Belle was the one of her five puppies that we kept and is now 8 years old. They both are sweet and loyal companions and have given us a lot of joy over the years.
The saying goes that dog is “man’s best friend”. We have truly enjoyed our dogs’ friendship over the years. What many of you may not know is that we have also lived with a black dog. It’s really my “black dog”, but my family has lived with it since I was a teenager. You see, there is another saying about a dog, that is not such a positive thing. Winston Churchill coined the phrase “black dog” as a term to describe his own clinical depression:
“Although the roots of the phrase itself can be traced back to a variety of origins, we’ve…attributed the phrase “The Black Dog” as a metaphor for depression to Winston Churchill. Folks who suffer from, work to manage, and live daily with depression know this phrase — this description of a wild, ominously colored constant companion, growling and baring his thick, razor-sharp teeth — to be a fairly accurate metaphor.” Alicia Sparks, When the Black Dog Starts Growling
Each year about 6.7% of U.S adults experience an episode of major depression. Between 20% and 25% of adults have an episode of major depression at some point during their lifetime. This is more than just temporarily feeling down or blue. It is not a weakness nor a lack of faith, nor is it something that you can simply “snap out”of or pray yourself out of.
To be diagnosed with clinical depression, you must meet the symptom criteria for major depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. You must have five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period for most of the day, nearly every day. At least one of the symptoms must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure.
- Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty, tearful, or constantly irritable
- Significantly reduced interest or pleasure in all or most activities
- Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
- Insomnia or increased desire to sleep
- Restlessness or slowed behavior that can be observed by others
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Trouble making decisions, thinking, or concentrating
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt
Your symptoms must be severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others and in day-to-day activities (work, school or social) in order to be considered major depression. Symptoms may be based on your own feelings or on the observations of someone else.
Some types of depression are genetic. However, depression occurs in people without family histories of depression too. Some genetic research shows that risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur without an obvious trigger.
Major depression can affect people of any age, including children but more commonly occurs in women and in young adults. Depression symptoms usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two. It is usually not a result of sin or a lack of faith, and responds to medication, like someone who had high blood pressure or diabetes might need to take medication to control them. Please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help from your doctor, pastor, or from a counselor/therapist.
My own black dog has been with me since I was a teenager but I have learned how to control him and keep him at bay. I have also had the privilege of helping many others tame their black dogs over the years. Having a black dog puts you in “good company” (King David, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Wesley, Michelangelo, and Beethoven to name a few). God can use it in your life for good and for His glory as He has in mine. The following verses show He plays a role in helping us when we suffer from depression:
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:1,5
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” Matthew 5:4
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4