Understanding black dog depression and how to cope with it

Introduction

Depression is a common mental illness affecting millions of people globally. While common, depression can manifest differently in different people, and one variant is known as black dog depression. Black dog depression (BDD) is an Australian term for depression that feels pervasive, heavy and exhausting, like a black dog always following you.

BDD is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities that one typically finds enjoyable. In many cases, people who suffer from BDD also experience physical symptoms like fatigue, a loss of appetite or difficulty sleeping.

Causes of Black Dog Depression

The causes of BDD are not entirely clear, although experts believe they are linked to a combination of mental, physiological, and environmental factors. Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • Biochemistry: BDD is believed to be significantly linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine. An imbalance in these chemicals can cause negative thinking patterns and mood that can lead to BDD.
  • Genetics: Depression, including BDD, can be hereditary. Research has proven that BDD and other forms of depression run in families, indicating that genetics play a role in its development.
  • Life events: Stressful life events like a breakup, job loss, or the death of a loved one can cause depression, including BDD.
  • Physical health: Chronic pain, chronic illness, and hormonal imbalances are also linked to BDD.

Symptoms of Black Dog Depression

The symptoms of BDD are numerous and can vary from individual to individual. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Feelings of hopelessness: People suffering from BDD feel trapped by their depression and may find it hard to imagine anything improving. They may also feel helpless, despairing or empty.
  • Inability to find pleasure in usually enjoyable activities: Hobbies or interests that were once enjoyed no longer appeal to a person with BDD.
  • Changes in appetite and weight: A person with BDD may either overeat or lose their appetite and may experience significant weight loss or gain as a result.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia: People with BDD may have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.
  • Lack of energy: People with BDD may feel exhausted and sluggish, even after a good rest.
  • Negative thoughts: People with BDD may struggle with negative thoughts like self-criticism, guilt, and self-blame. They may also have trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  • Reckless behaviour: In severe cases, people with BDD may engage in risky behaviour or self-harm.

Treatment Options for Black Dog Depression

BDD is not something that can be treated overnight. There are multiple treatment approaches that include therapy, medication, physical activity and mindfulness exercises.

  • Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy, this helps people with BDD explore their emotions, behaviours, and patterns of thinking that contribute to their depression. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular type of talk therapy that helps people identify negative thought processes and encourages them to develop healthier responses to them. In addition to CBT, other types of therapy like interpersonal and psychodynamic have shown efficacy in treating BDD.
  • Medication: Antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are often prescribed to help people with BDD balance their brain chemistry. These drugs are not a cure, but they can help manage symptoms.
  • Physical activity: Exercise releases endorphins that can elevate mood and reduce stress, and it can also improve the quality of sleep. Thus regular physical activity has shown to improve symptoms of BDD.
  • Practicing Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique that emphasizes the importance of being present and engaging with what is happening around you. Practicing mindfulness can help people with BDD become more aware of their thoughts and lessen the intensity of negative feelings.

How to Cope with Black Dog Depression

Coping with BDD takes time, patience and kindness to oneself, here are few helpful tips that can help individuals to cope with BDD:

  • Meditate: Meditation helps tackle anxiety and can teach you to manage your emotions better.
  • Get support: Speak to a trusted friend, family member or mental health professional, and let them help you cope with the symptoms.
  • Focus on self-care: Eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, and engaging in enjoyable activities can improve mood and overall wellbeing.
  • Limit social media exposure: Social media can be triggering and increase feelings of inadequacy and negative self-perception.
  • Create a support network: People with depression can feel isolated and alone, so it’s helpful to have a network of support in place. Consider joining a support group.
  • Find a sense of purpose: Engaging in activities that provide purpose and meaning can help reduce feelings of hopelessness.
  • Practice self-compassion: Understand that depression is not your fault and doesn’t determine your self-worth. Practice self-love and self-compassion in all aspects of your life.

Conclusion

Black dog depression, while challenging, can be managed effectively with the right combination of therapy, medication, physical activity, mindfulness practices, and support from loved ones. From self-care to pursuing hobbies to seeking professional help, managing and coping with BDD is possible and a journey that requires patience, kindness, and continuous effort.

FAQs

What is “Black Dog Depression”?

Black Dog Depression is a metaphorical term used to describe a type of depression that is characterized by long and persistent episodes of sadness, low mood, and hopelessness. It is commonly associated with symptoms such as increased fatigue, trouble sleeping, and decreased pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyed. It is important to note that the term “black dog” does not refer to a specific type of depression but rather a general term that has been used to describe depression.

What causes Black Dog Depression?

There are a number of factors that may contribute to the onset of Black Dog Depression, including genetic predisposition, chemical imbalances in the brain, and environmental factors such as stress or traumatic life events. It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of depression, as it can result from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and social factors.

How is Black Dog Depression treated?

Treatment for Black Dog Depression typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Antidepressant medications can help to alleviate symptoms of depression by regulating the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. Therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can help individuals to identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to their depression. Lifestyle changes may include regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress through relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. It is important for individuals with depression to seek help from a healthcare professional, as depression can have serious consequences if left untreated.


References

1. Miller, E. J., & Bing-Canar, H. (2017). Exploring the relationship between black dog depression and resilience factors among older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 21(4), 375-382. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2015.1071667

2. Craighead, W. E., & Dunlop, B. (2014). Understanding Black Dog Depression: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Treatment. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780195396287

3. Saxena, S. (2016). Genetics of Black Dog Depression. In Genomics, Proteomics, and the Nervous System (pp. 191-216). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-801393-0.00008-2