World Health Day 2017: The Story of the Black Dog

World Heath Day-Newsletter.jpg

Written by Edmund

You probably thought this was going to be a story about a black Shih-Tzu or a black Retriever possibly complemented with a funny dog video. The Black Dog, to some, meant something else and something less pleasant.

“A light seen suddenly in the storm, snow/ Coming from all sides, like flakes/ Of sleep, and myself/ On the road to the dark barn,/ Halfway there, a black dog near me.” 

– Robert Bly, from “Melancholia” in The Light Around the Body (1967)

The Black Dog follows wherever its owner goes, dragging him or her down, slowly taking control of everything. Regarded as a burden and an emotional baggage, this Black Dog is better referred to as depression by Winston Churchill. No matter how hard you try, the Black Dog never seem to let go. Slowly, it outgrows your capability to take control of your emotions and holds you captive in your own darkness.

Depression is a common mental health condition worldwide. Today, there are about 300 million people in the world fighting the battle, in hopes to overcome depression. In Malaysia, it is believed that at least 40% of the population is affected by mental health issues, which includes depression.

While many factors contribute to the steep line on the chart, Dr Philip George, a consultant psychiatrist from International Medical University, highlights the main difference between Asians and Caucasians, pointing out that Asians are less prone to talk about their problems and often they do not have the words for emotion, referring this to a “huge barrier“.

Many times we come across the term “depressed” on social media timelines and posts, but do we actually know what it is? Clinical depression, a recognised medical condition, is very much different from occasional mood swings. It affects the wellbeing of a person, their thoughts, and actions for a sustained period of time. The types of conditions include recurrent depressive disorder and bipolar affective disorder. The former is described to involve repetitive depressive condition, and it affects the mental well-being of the person for at least two weeks. For bipolar affective disorder, this type of depression typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, inflated self-esteem and abnormal sleeping patterns.

In conjunction with the 2017 World Health Day theme “Depression: Let’s Talk“, we have the privilege to feature  The Befrienders, a non-profit organisation that helps offer emotional support to those who may be in distress, feeling depressed or suicidal. We spoke to Kenny, a dedicated volunteer from the organisation, and got his advice on effective ways to reach out to people who are affected by depression.

“We do get a high number of calls (18% of our total call in 2016) from people who are struggling with mental health issues, depression being one of them. And 30% of our callers have expressed their thoughts to end their life.” – Kenny, The Befrienders.

If someone you know is going through a difficult time, hear them out and help them. Kenny explained further on this, giving helpful tips on approaching someone affected by depression that could be easily overlooked.

What to do:

  1. Listen: Make your intentions to help clear. Listen without judging.
  2. Encourage: Remind them that depression is not a weakness, and encourage and accompany them to seek professional help.
  3. Assist: Guide them through their everyday tasks and help them with getting back into regular sleeping and eating habits. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle would help too!
  4. Remind: Help (not force) them to adhere to their medical routines.

What NOT to do:

    1. Judge them: It is not a choice of their own to act in such a way and understand that they are trying to get hold of themselves.
    2. Encourage them to try self-diagnosing: Depression is not a simple condition, and it has to be diagnosed by a certified psychologists.
    3. Label them as weak, useless, lazy or crazy: Do not ask them to “snap out of it”. Depression is a medical condition, not a character flaw.
    4. Trivialise their problems and condition: Offer your listening ear instead.
    5. Tell them what to do: Most of the time, they just need us to listen and journey with them.
    6. Force them to talk if they are not ready to open up: Give them some time, assure them that you will be there when they are ready to talk. If you think you’re not in a better position to assist, encourage them to speak to The Befrienders team where emotional support and advice is available.

Kenny also pointed out that depression is a risk factor for suicide. A high percentage of suicidal cases are caused by mental illness. If you know anyone who is potentially suffering from depression, Kenny suggested to try spending more time with them and looking out for obvious suicidal indications. Some warning signs of suicidal ideation could be:

  • They talk about wanting to die.
  • They do research on ways to die.
  • Making final arrangements e.g. saying goodbyes and asking for forgiveness.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Social isolation or withdrawal.
  • Overwhelming guilt and self-hate.

“If you need to talk to someone in a non-judgmental and safe environment, we are always here for you. If you are struggling with depression, do reach out and seek help. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable.”

– Your friends at The Befrienders.

You’re not alone. The Befrienders are here for you and you can reach them easily:

The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur

Contact: 03-79568144 or 03-79568145



Befrienders Center
No.95 Jalan Templer,
46000 Petaling Jaya.

If you need to speak to someone face to face, appointments can be made over the phone.

Standing with you,


Visuals by Edmund

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s