The Black Dog event is based on a concept created by Elisse, an East of England Champion. You can read her blog about it here. It is based on the idea of the Black Dog representing depression.

Running a mental health anti-stigma event using real black dogs can be an amazing conversation starter. It requires involving the right organisations and some careful planning, but it’s a great way of attracting people to come and talk with you. As they pet the dog(s), it provides an opening to say ‘we’ve brought our black dog(s) today, because we want to show that it isn’t scary to approach the subject of depression and mental health’.

Elisse worked with a dog rehoming centre and it’s important to work in partnership with an organisation that knows the dogs and how they respond to people. Other organisations could include those who work with Assistance Dogs for people who are visually or hearing impaired, or have other disabilities.

Planning and preparing your activity

Where will you do it?

Most importantly, the space has to be one that can accommodate a dog (or dogs). An outdoor space, such as a festival, fete or outdoor community event, could work well.

Number of Champions

You will need an organisation to bring black dogs and look after them on the day. Otherwise, anywhere between 2 and 5 Champions can run an event.

Materials you may need

The dogs will be the main attraction and the focus around which to have conversations, so you would not need any materials.

On the day

Arrange for the organisation bringing the dogs to be there ahead of the start time and make sure you are there to welcome them. When members of the public approach, that’s the opportunity to begin conversations with a comment such as ‘did you know that a black dog is often used as a symbol for depression’? If someone makes a comment such as ‘but the dog seems so happy’ you can say ‘many people with depression are happy too, when they are not unwell’ – it can be a great way to challenge stigma! Even if you don't have experience of depression, you can use the idea to get the conversation started about your own experience of mental health problems.