living well

Have you heard about the Black Dog Tribe?

22 Comments 16 July 2012

Black Dog Tribe


I have something cool to tell you about.

I do not suffer from extreme mental health issues but I have had dark days, difficult times, and panic attacks like many of us. Mental health issues, whether big or small, whether chronic and long lasting or relatively brief flare-ups when things get a bit much are those Things We Don’t Talk About. The precious veneer would crack leaving us looking a bit, well, unappealing. What would people say? Well, most people would say–or at least think, ‘yeah, me too.’

You’ve heard the stats, right?

One in four people will have mental illness. So there’s a high probability that if you aren’t suffering from a mental illness, you know someone who is. Even if you don’t realise it. And that’s the sad part because they probably need your support.

Our minds are amazing, exciting, complex things that create incredible inventions, explore detailed philosophies, and experience intense emotions. It’s no wonder our minds sometimes feel overloaded and it’s no wonder that those great, amazing thinking machines sometimes stray down the wrong path taking us through the wastelands of mental illnesses.

But because no one on the outside can see that you’re not feeling right, you feel funny telling them. How can you complain about an illness no one can see? How can you call in sick to work, when you don’t look ill? And worse, the stigma that remains attached to mental illness means most of you won’t be sharing news of your illness. Which is really impractical because sharing this information will mean the affected person can get good help more quickly and recover sooner. It’s win-win, so long as the supporter has an open mind.

I say ‘the affected person’ but actually everyone around the person suffering from a mental health issue is affected, even if they don’t know their friend/partner/colleague is suffering because their contribution to life will be a fraction of what it could be.

Education is the key

As with most things, education is probably the key. If everyone—both the sufferers and the rest, understand mental health issues better, there would be a lot fewer mental health issues. People would be supported and treated and guided in how to prevent future episodes. And we would all live in a much happier place. Golly, sounds awesome, doesn’t it?! So…what’s the hold up? Why aren’t we providing better support for people with mental health issues?

I support the recent moves to de-stigmatise mental illness. I want to be vocal about these issues because I think more people like myself–people who have an inkling but not the experience of mental health issues, need to stand up and support those who do suffer. If this de-stigmatisation is to work, it needs supporters on the outside as well as the inside to spread the word.

Here’s some education for you—even immensely successful people have suffered from crushing mental health issues. Did you know Winston Churchill periodically suffered from terrible depression, calling these episodes the Black Dog?

Famous comedienne Ruby Wax, fellow American expat and long term resident of the UK has also suffered from depression and she has decided to create a community called The Black Dog Tribe to help support people with mental health issues. As she said recently while speaking at BritMums Live, alcoholics have places to go to talk about their challenges, to support each other and to find recommendations for further support–people with mental health issues need a place to go as well. But because there is such a stigma surrounding it, who is going to turn up at a meeting as they do the AA?

An online community was the perfect answer. The Black Dog Tribe, named after Churchill’s beast offers anonymous community forums, links to support organisations, and information on mental health illnesses, treatments and medications. It is important to note that this community is not just for people suffering from mental health issues themselves, but also for their supporters. Pretty cool, right?

And I think this is especially cool for those of us in the expat life, as this community is international–anyone from anywhere can join and gain support and ideas.

Ruby hasn’t stopped there. Her new TV documentary, Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions films with three successful business people as they disclose their mental health condition to their colleagues and friends. Ruby also discovers prejudice against people with a mental illness is enshrined in law, when she meets two brave MPs who recently stood up in the House of Commons and told everyone about their own battles with depression. Don’t miss this amazing documentary, Monday July 23rd Channel 4 at 10 pm, Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions.

 What do you think?

I am interested in what you think readers—no, I am not asking for confessions, but I am curious about your ideas for challenging this stigma so that we can all benefit from supporting sufferers of mental illness.

Ruby Wax

Me with Ruby before her very inspirational talk at BritMums Live.


Your Comments

22 Comments so far

  1. I’ll be watching that show! I think it’s a shame that mental illness is still such a taboo subject, on both sides of the pond.

    • Michelloui says:

      It should be a good show! I don’t think it will be taboo forever, too many people are starting to speak out now.

  2. Rob-bear says:

    I ventured over from Tattie Weasle’s blog.

    I have lived with chronic depression since my teens. Now retired, I have recurring visits from The Black Dog.

    Like you, I believe education is a key component of to dealing with mental health issues. LIke you, I realize that those around people suffering mental illness (as well as physical illness) are significantly effected by those illnesses.

    From time to time, I blog about depression — mine, and the experiences of others. The things I write are similar to the fine comments you have put together.

    It is good when we support one another.

    • Michelloui says:

      Thanks for your comment Rob-bear, (and love your blog name!). I’m pleased this post made sense and ‘works’ because part of me feels a little unqualified to write about this, while the other part thinks that as I am writing from a supporter’s point of view, this should work ok.

      • Rob-bear says:

        The fact that you are “writing from a supporter’s point of view,” means you are telling your story, one thing at which you are the expert (as are we all, at our own stories). It works just wonderfully!

        Thank you.

        ~ Bear

  3. Caroline says:

    As a long time sufferer of depressions I have always tried to be open about it. It always amazes me to notice how little people seem to know about it and how many people there are who think there is really something very weird about you when are suffering from it and try and talk about it. In the end it’s easier not to mention it at all, which makes it all so very much harder. It’s a great thing people like Ruby bring things into the open.

    • Michelloui says:

      It’s great that you’ve always tried to be open about it, but I can see why not mentioning at all may seem ‘easier’. Even with the few relatively minor experiences I’ve had, such as baby blues, I never felt I could really talk about it much or I would get glazed looks.

  4. Anon says:

    Pure negative, and uneducated, judgement of mental illness mean’t I had to hide it and battle it alone. I will never take for granted how lucky I was to get better, despite my situation.

    • Vegemitevix says:

      I’m saddened but not surprised by Anon’s problems. Challenging the stigma of depression and mental illness has become something of a raison d’etre for me too. I’ve had depression for over 17 years, after I was first diagnosed with PND after the birth of my second baby. I probably did suffer before then, but battled on with what I thought was the inevitable downside of an artistic personality. I’ve learnt over 17 years how to recognise my own red flags that signal that I am about to get into trouble and freak out, and importantly I’ve learnt how to manage and control my disorder. In general I think I am fairly successful at leading a happy, worthwhile life full of love – both given and received – but I also feel it is important for other people to see that even us purportedly ‘successful’ people suffer from mental illness. We live in the shadows some days, despite the brave face. I have written a number of posts on my blog which I hope help to counter that negative perspective that people who suffer from mental illness are defective, lazy, or permanently miserable. On the front page of the blog I’ve posted this piece that talks about how friends and family of those who suffer from depression can continue to keep their heads and keep loving, despite their loved one’s pain. I hope you don’t mind Michelle me linking it – At the bottom of that post there are a few other posts that may help you, if you are indeed the sufferer. I really hope they do, Vix xx

      • Michelloui says:

        Link away Vix! The more support and info available to everyone the better. Thanks for sharing this. Voices like yours help make a difference in this campaign!

    • Michelloui says:

      You were lucky, but also strong. It takes a lot to overcome something as big as this alone. It can be done, but how sad that you had to do it alone. x

    • Rob-bear says:

      Glad you survived Anon. Despite all the “stuff” that clogged up other peoples’ lives.

  5. Betsy says:

    The more mental illnesses are discussed in destigmatizing ways, the more people who suffer from mental illnesses will be empowered to seek help.

    It really is that simple.

    Thanks for highlighting this.

    • Michelloui says:

      Totally! It really is that simple!! Thanks Betsy.

      • Rob-bear says:

        I am finding more and more blogs where people spend at least part of their time talking about their mental health issues. As we are able to su port one another, we all get healthier.

        Thanks, Betsy

  6. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I grew up with an abusive, violent bi-polar father and a resentful, depressive mother. It took me ten years of battling my disorder alone before I found the help and support that would enable me to get my life back on the rails.
    I have since moved to Canada but I still try and “give back” by supporting my local mental health community. I’m taking part in a research study for CAMH (a Canadian research facility and hospital helping sufferers of addiction and mental illness) and my family and I work with our community to reduce the stigma surrounding Mental Illness. One such event was the recent Mindful Music festival – you can read about it here and check out the Breaking the Code of Silence page for more posts on living with mental illness.

    • Michelloui says:

      Wow Aisha. I knew some of this already from reading your blog, but your comment has just reminded me of what a huge struggle who have had to overcome all of this. Yours is a great siccess story and how wonderful that you’re able to give back to the community. Thanks for the links.

  7. Meg says:

    Thanks for sharing! Though I’ve never personally dealt with mental health issues, I was a depression researcher prior to moving to the UK. How wonderful that Ruby is attempting to create a support network for people who desperately need it!

    • Michelloui says:

      Yes it’s great when celebrities get on board because people start to listen more!

  8. Anon says:

    Thank you so much for the kind and supportive comments. My difficulties were blown out of proportion by a professional, so that my sanity would be questioned by others who she duly informed, and she endeavoured to have my child taken from me. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s amazing how you can find strength when it feels like your world could fall apart.

  9. Ivankuznetsov says:

    I have suffered depression for many years and when I went sick with it for several weeks some years ago the people I was working for had no notion of how to deal with it. I returned from work and people were clearly embarrassed at broaching the subject with me. I told the welfare department that they should get the management some some education on the subject as the problem is getting more acute with each passing year. I have tackled my depression by a system called Adaptation Practice which was founded by Dr Clive Sherlock. You can find him under Adaptation Practice on Google. His method does work and I would reccommend it to anyone.

  10. Christine says:

    Great post, I think Black Dog Tribe is a fantastic idea and a great website. The issues raised are very relevant and it is so important that it is talked about and the stigmas are removed.

    As an expat, you can be very vulnerable to these problems, with culture shock, feeling isolated etc. It is so important to have an outlet and support. But it is so hard to show our ‘weakness’ and make people understand how you are struggling.

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