Let’s play Jeopardy. “Psychology for $400, Ken.” THE BLACK DOG “What did Winston Churchill call his depression?” Right you are. And now for some fascinating history that may just hit home…

Though a provisional diagnosis for Churchill is still debated, it’s largely believed to be bipolar disorder.

We’re going to do a two-part series on Winston Churchill and his emotional and mental health challenges.

Here in part one we’ll talk about the metaphor, black dog. And we’ll come back and review portions of his psych history, as well as his, shall we say, eccentric behavior in part two.

I think you’ll find the series interesting – even inspirational. Let’s roll…

Who was Winston Churchill?

The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and Minister of Defense during World War II.

He was a fabulous man in many ways. In fact, he’s ranked #37 on Time’s 100 Most Significant Figures in History.

We’re going to zero in on Churchill’s ability to move forward in the face of troubling emotional and mental circumstances and relentless life-or-death stress.

Did Churchill have bipolar disorder?

Though a provisional diagnosis for Churchill is still debated, it’s largely believed to be bipolar disorder. And historians on the bipolar disorder side of the fence attribute many of Churchill’s achievements to mania.

Some even theorize that had Churchill not been the expansive and grandiose figure he was, the people of the United Kingdom may not have had the inspiration and motivation to get through World War II.

The Black Dog

Winston Churchill 1941

Well, that addresses the manic portion of Churchill’s supposed bipolar disorder, but what about the depressive piece?

Are you familiar with the term black dog? No, not the Led Zeppelin number. Winston Churchill often referred to his depression as the black dog.

By the way, for our purposes, it really doesn’t matter if it was bipolar or unipolar depression.


The story goes that Churchill picked up black dog from his nanny. It was commonly used by old-school nannies to identify a gloomy mood. From what I’ve read, the statement went, “I’ve got a black dog on my back today.”

It was also used in connection with throwing a temper tantrum, delirium tremens (DTs) – even the devil.

Actually, black dog can be traced back to Rome, just before the time of Jesus Christ. And along came the middle-ages and the association between black dog and depression solidified.

By the way, Abraham Lincoln was known to use black dog in reference to his depression.

More to come

That’ll do it for part one. We got to know a little bit about Winston Churchill and picked up a few nuggets on the infamous black dog.

Part two is waiting for you. Reviewing portions of Churchill’s psych history and detailing that eccentric behavior of his will make for riveting – inspiring – reading.

Are you looking for more Chipur mood and anxiety info and inspiration articles? Hit the titles.

Winston Churchill image: Digitalized by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives. No changes made. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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