World Health Day-Living with a black dog


Have you heard about the “black dog”? It’s called depression. It’s like a real dog: it needs to be understood, embraced and taught new tricks1,2. The “black dog” can live with anyone, at any point of life, at any age, in any country. The “black dog” causes sadness, loss of interest in activities you would normally joy, and inability to carry out normal daily activities.  People living with the “black dog” might feel guilty, worthless, hopelessness, and have thoughts of self-harm or suicide3.  This “black dog” can cause devastating consequences for relationships3. If the “black dog” is left untreated, it can impair one’s ability to work and participate in activities. However, this “black dog”, depression, can be effectively prevented and treated1,2,3.

The theme of the World Health Day 2017 is depression7. Depression or depressive disorder is a serious mood disorder including symptoms such as feeling guilty, hopeless, restless or worthless, for example, irritability, lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and poor concentration6. The severity and frequency of the symptoms vary individually6. Depression can be recurrent or last for a long time. To have a medical diagnosis of depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks6. Depression can be divided into two main sub-categories: depressive episode and dysthymia5.

It is estimated that over 300 million people worldwide, or about 4,4 % of the world’s population suffer from depression. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to the global burden of disease4,5. Depression is the major contributor to suicide deaths, with an annual number of almost 800 000. Even though depression can affect anyone, there are several risk factors increasing the likelihood to become depressed. These risk factors are for example poverty, unemployment, physical illness, or traumatic life-events5.

The slogan of the World Health Day campaign: “Depression: Let’s talk” reminds of the initial stage of recovery from depression: talking3,7. “Let’s talk” campaign aims to inform people about depression; its causes, consequences and the channels of help. The aim is that people with depression seek help, and that family members, friends or colleagues can provide support for people living with depression3.  

People with depression might struggle to talk about it but as a friend or family member of a person suffering from depression, you can listen and be supportive. It is important to remember that depression is a medical condition which requires medical care and you alone do not have the power to cure someone with depression. However, talking is important and being a listener can reduce the risk of self-harm8. When talking with a person suffering from depression, it can be difficult not to take criticism, anger, and negativity personally. Remember not to buy into it: misery loves company 2. Rather be sensitive, and be there, as a listener, without opinion or judgment. Encourage a person with depression to have a medical visit1,8. Try to encourage for interesting, even small daily activities and exercise that promote a sense of accomplishment8. Communicate openly and honestly and agree to check-in with each other regularly. Agree to take a course of action2.

Get help. Be helped. Always hold onto hope. More talk, less black dog1,2.



  1. WHO (2012) I had a black dog, his name was depression. Available at: <>. [Accessed 28 March 2017].
  2. WHO (2014) Living with a black dog. Available at: <>. [Accessed 28 March 2017].
  3. WHO (2017) Depression: Let’s talk, Campaign essentials. Available at: <>. [Accessed 28 March 2017].
  4. WHO (2017) Depression, fact sheet. Available at: <>. [Accessed 28 March 2017].
  5. WHO (2017) Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders, Global Health Estimates. Available at: <>. [Accessed 2 April 2017].  
  6. National Institute of Mental Health (2016) Depression. Available at: <>. [Accessed 2 April 2017].
  7. WHO (2017) World Health Day. Available at: <>. [Accessed 2 April 2017].
  8. WHO (2017) Living with someone with depression. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 April 2017].


Bio_picture_Niina-Maria Nissinen Niina-Maria Nissinen is a public health master student at Lund University, and a news writer at GHNGN. Her interest in public health is in drugs, alcohol and mental health with a special focus on social structures. 

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