Winston Churchill and Depression

Written by Aaron Renfree.

Winston Churchill had a black dog.  It was not a labrador, a poodle, a German Shepherd, or a corgi. No, Churchill’s black dog was something else; it was mentally fixated within his head.

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

The animal resided within a bleak doghouse, hidden within the darkest depths of dreary magnitude in his mind. The type of place that would be covered in cobwebs, home to spiders the size of rats.

A grim place, reminiscent of bygone thoughts of the residence that terrifying teachers fled to when the bell rung for the final time after a busy day at school.

The dog was not nice either. If it could be muzzled, it would. It would howl at the moon, destroy furniture and piddle everywhere. House trained it certainly was not. It was a wild beast, untameable and invisible. No one could see it but Churchill’s mind’s eye.

The dog had a name, a dreaded name, a name that sends shivers down many spines: the dog was depression.

Many people also suffer with depression. According to the Mental Health Foundation 25% of people in the UK are affected by a mental health problem over the course of the year, with anxiety and the depression being common.

Some do not admit it, some are open about it, some let it control them and some see it as a hurdle to be hopped. But, the black dog is there, no matter how you choose to handle it, and it takes some fighting to put it down. However, going back to the man mentioned above, Mr. Churchill was able to use his black dog to his advantage in great, unpredictable ways.

Psychiatrist and historian Anthony Storr said that due to depression and his bipolar disorder: “Had (Churchill) been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished.”

Churchill’s unique perception on Britain’s war effort allowed him to lead a nation through some of its toughest years in history and eventually onward to victory. However, the black dog’s influence in WW2 does not stop there.

Anthony Storr further claimed that Churchill used his experiences of depression to inform his political decisions: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940.”

With this claim in mind, it has been argued that Churchill’s black dog enabled him to view the threat of Germany in a realistic fashion; the depression taught him that a peaceful solution was not in Hitler’s interests and that resistance was ultimately needed to put down the threat.

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