A client of mine sent me a link to the YouTube video titled, I Had a Black Dog, His Name Was Depression. I encourage you to watch the video, which inspired this article. (I’ve posted the link below.) I experienced it as the best description I have seen of depression. It also serves as a great metaphor for how I work with teens to externalize their problems and find a new narrative for their life. Something about naming and understanding depression makes it easier to handle and gives them the ability to take back control of their lives and learn how to train their “black dogs”. Following is a summary, my take on depression from this video and how it effects teens.
I have a black dog named Depression. He used to follow me wherever I went. He told me things about myself that just weren’t true. He told me I would never beat anxiety or worry and that all I had left was a deep sadness. Once he came, I could literally do nothing. I was stuck, immobile, being dragged around by a beast. He stole my happiness and my ability to enjoy life. He convinced me I would be better off dead.
However the black dog also helped me. He showed me that I couldn’t do this alone. He broke me so deeply that I had no choice but to seek help. So I swallowed my pride and I asked for help. I put myself in the hands of others and they helped me get up. My parents were surprisingly good at helping me with my black dog, even though telling them about him was the hardest thing I ever did. They understood and told me about times in their lives they also had black dogs and how they got rid of them. They took me to a therapist who taught me how to train the black dog. I learned how to turn his lies into truth. I learned how to make him smaller and more manageable.
For adolescents and adults living with a depression can be difficult. Teens just don’t understand that the depression takes so much away from them. Once they start to externalize it, they can see that they can be separate from their depression. Once they are separate they can start to develop tools they can use to defeat depression.
In my work with teens I show them how to see their depression as something they can control. I have them use whatever strengths they have. If they are artistic, they draw their depression. If they are writers, they write about what depression tells them. If they are thinkers, they learn to examine their thoughts to see which thoughts are caused by the depression and which thoughts are the truth. Together we think, write, draw or mold out of clay the depression and find the unique strengths they have to defeat it.