Challenging The Black Dog is a creative journal specifically designed for Young Adults (15-25) dealing with depression by someone who has 25 years of “been there, done that” lived experience with mental illness.



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…No one gets to live your life but you. You have the power to shape it the way you want it to be and this book is about you. You can write in it, draw, vent, scribble random things that are important and inspire you. Treat it as your companion. It’s here to help and encourage you. It’s a support crew in your corner, there to use anytime, anywhere.

Belle Brockhoff
Professional Snowboarder &  2x Olympian
Instagram @beleebrockhoff / Twitter @bellebrockhoff

Challenging the Black Dog presents a refreshingly original approach to grappling with depression. The exercises here spark a creative process that simultaneously grounds and explores. I wish I’d had this book in my teens and twenties.

Mark Pellegrino
Actor, Supernatural and 13 Reasons Why

Challenging the Black Dog is a thoughtful and creative resource for teenagers and young adults dealing with depression.  With an abundance of written exercises and innovative probes, it serves as an intimate guide to self-discovery and constructive change. I strongly recommend it not only for those who are experiencing the pain of depression but for all who wish to reflect deeply with the personal factors that can bring us darkly down and those that can bring us back to renewal and light.

Brian R. Little, PhD.
Fellow, Well-Being Institute
Cambridge University

Challenging the Black Dog is immensely creative, using humour and intentional questions to encourage personal reflection. In the busyness of life slowing down and finding positive ways to manage depression is essential. Challenging the Black Dog provides information, tips and tricks on a wide range of topics in an interactive format to encourage the reader to actively participate in their recovery and tell their own story. There’s something for everyone in this book.

Associate Professor James Scott
Child and Youth Psychiatrist
Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research

Challenging the Black Dog is a resource for depression sufferers by a depression sufferer. VJ’s approach provides a very specific type of compassion and understanding that’s only available from lived experience, yet still manages to get across the idea of personal accountability for recovery.  It is a treasure trove of ideas, strategies and bite-sized prompts which can be added to by the reader.  An experimental approach is encouraged!  Importantly it provides hope and will complement professional expertise.

Patrick McGorry AO MD PhD FRANZCP
Professor of Youth Mental Health
Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and the University of Melbourne

Challenging the Black Dog isn’t about replacing professional medical help, but, it will no doubt be an effective road-map to those who are lost and seeking guidance. Challenging the Black Dog is significant in that it does not hand you answers, but rather sets you up to find them yourself.

Sam Webb
Actor + Co-founder of mental health organisation, LIVIN. /
Instagram @ samwebb / FB @ samwebbau

Challenging the Black Dog is a great addition to the resources available for young people with depression. The book is easy to use and allows consumers to easily relate to images and messages which resonate with young people. In particular, VJ’s own lived experience of depression at a young age makes the messages ring true.

Dr Ted Cassidy MB BS FRANZCP
Psychiatrist & CEO TMS Australia

We need to ditch the ‘one size fits all’ stereotype of depression and anxiety and Challenging the Black Dog provides a creative outlet for young people to be artistic, to vent if they feel like it, or to explore their thoughts and feelings in a safe, private way.

Professor Jane Burns
University of Sydney
Founder. Chair. Strategic Advisor.

What a brilliant idea — Challenging the Black Dog is a creative resource, designed to support personal reflection and insight into the experience of depression.  And why shouldn’t the exploration of depression be creative, stimulating and ultimately uplifting? Challenging the Black Dog effectively takes the currently popular, designer “happiness journal” to a new level and depth, confronting the reality of living with depression in a format that can be both pleasurable and relatable.

Professor Jill Bennett
Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, UNSW AUSTRALIA
Director of The Big Anxiety: festival of arts + science + people / T: @thebiganxiety



increase in teen depression in the last 25 years


of teens experience depression before adulthood


of teens with depression aren't being treated


of teens with depression can be successfully treated

This means 1 in 5 teens are wrestling with depression, and most of them aren’t getting treatment that could be helping them.
And it’s only getting worse.


Challenging The Black Dog aims to provide a safe, private place for you to get to know your personal Black Dog—to explore and tackle your depression—through a combo of therapy techniques in a 6x9, softcover first edition, including:

– 234 pages
– Artwork by Patmai De Vera
– 37 art prompts
– 54 writing prompts
– Monthly trigger log
– Daily mood doodle log
– 22 colouring pages
– Mental health resource lists + MORE!

Created under the guidance of a qualified psychologist, the journal was specifically designed for young adults in a style that would appeal to them and address age-specific issues. It can easily be used as a form of guided self-therapy for those unable (or unwilling) to access other medical interventions, or in conjunction with other medical resources, such as psychologists and counsellors.

With use and time, Challenging the Black Dog can help you transform yourself into an active participant in your personal journey towards recovery from depression. Start the challenge of leashing your Black Dog and reclaim control over your psychological well-being.

Isn’t it time for #ChallengingTheBlackDog?


VJ Cast is a first-time non-fiction author, introvert, and co-parent of a home-schooled tween on the spectrum.

She’s spent over two decades struggling with depression, social anxiety, trichotillomania, disordered eating (EDNOS), and bipolar II. Fibromyalgia enjoys kicking her ass, so she’s close friends with numerous hot water bottles.

She likes poking her dog when he’s sleeping, comfy pants with pockets, layering silver bracelets, and making a mess with numerous DIY projects.

She dislikes (most) social media, having to wear makeup, photographs of herself, running low on iced coffee and watching her child grow up.

She lives on a small island off the coast of Queensland, Australia with an abundance of wildlife and far too many friendly mosquitoes.

Her hair colours, like her medications, are subject to change.


“…Like a Bill Bryson travel book, it’s more a guided hike in a dark forest, than a trip to the mechanic to have something fixed for you… a personal project that can get you started on a new approach to your life as a whole…”

Dr Travis Gee, PhD (Psychology, Carleton, 1998) is a psychologist practising in Queensland, Australia, with nearly two decades’ experience helping people from around the world. He has sat on the Executive Board of the Australian Counselling Association for many years, where he has edited journals and consulted on policy, and he has recently joined the Executive Board of the Black Ribbon Foundation of Australia.

Dr Gee has experience with a broad range of clinical issues, ranging from depression and anxiety through schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, drug and alcohol addiction, phobias, Asperger’s Disorder, grief and trauma.


Patricia “Patmai” de Vera is an illustrator and artist from the Phillipines who graduated from De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde with a degree in Multimedia Art.

She aspires to become a character concept and storyboard artist in the hopes of creating and molding the childhoods of future generations. She currently works as a freelance illustrator with numerous, varied clients and curates her works-in-progress on her Instagram, Tumblr, and website.

Patmai has worked creatively on Challenging the Black Dog as illustrator and concept artist for nearly two years after meeting VJ online.


30 seconds of your time could help make a huge difference in someone’s life! The more people who know about Challenging the Black Dog the more young adults we can help on to the road to recovery from depression.

So, don’t be shy about spreading the word among your friends, family and followers! I’ve made it super easy for you to support the project across a number of platforms. Just click one of the buttons below:


Weren’t you going to run a crowdfunding campaign?
I was. However, the prospect of running a crowdfunding campaign alone plus organizing all the work to fulfil pledges became extremely overwhelming to the point of being untenable. Please keep in mind, I’m doing this as a solo ‘mission’ in between supervising a home-schooled (distance education) tween on the spectrum in her first year of high-school, trying to avoiding burn-out (or rapid cycling mood wobbles), and doing everything else that has to do with just living in general. The all-or-nothing of most crowdfunding platforms also meant that if the campaign failed then people who have already said they’d really like a copy would miss out. Therefore, I’ve spent some time looking into a few other options. I’ve found it’ll be much more feasible (for everyone) to put the book up for pre-order, with printing taking place in late June and delivery shortly thereafter. The Print on Demand company I’ve chosen provides the specs I need for the book and will allow me to keep the price of the book and shipping costs reasonable.
Will the journal still be available worldwide?
YES, except for restricted countries or where shipping would be a nightmare for everyone involved.
When will you start accepting pre-orders?
The beginning of May, 2018… to be kept in the loop I highly recommend you sign up to the Offbeat Brains newsletter to be notified of when pre-ordering is launched.
Why are you waiting to start taking pre-orders?
I need to get the final files together for the printer, have them approved from proof, then start connecting the book details to various sellers who allow Pre-Orders, such as Amazon.
Will a bulk ordering option be available?
If you’d like to order more than 5 copies at a time, please email after June 25. If you’re
Are you (VJ) a mental health professional?
No. My ‘qualifications’ for creating this book comes from 25 years experience with various mental disorders of my own, including depression, which first became apparent during my teens. However, I did regularly consult with a qualified psychologist regarding the contents of the book during its creation.
How do you know the journal can help?
Not only have I used these activities myself during depressive phases, the journal has been used in a clinical setting by a qualified psychologist with several patients who suffer from depression and related issues. All the feedback has been positive.
Will the journal cure my depression?
I wish it was that simple… Some depression goes away for a long time, only to sneak back up on you later in life. Some people seem to suffer from a low-level depression as their emotional ‘set point’. Other people find that with enough help that they can permanently exclude the black dog from their life. Everyone is different and I can’t make any claims that the journal will cure your depression, but it can help alleviate the symptoms and guide you towards recovery if you give it time and a chance.
If I get the journal do I still need other therapy?
Everyone is different and this isn’t something I can advise you on. I’ve known people who have relied solely on self-guided therapy and lifestyle changes who’ve improved their condition. I’ve known other people with treatment resistant depression where nothing seems to work. Most people find it best to go with a combination of treatments, which can include such things as: psychotherapy interventions, medication, self-therapy, exercise + diet changes, establishing routines, hypnosis, regular self-care, support groups, and medical interventions such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Challenging the Black Dog was written to use either as self-guided therapy (for those unable or unwilling to access medical treatment for their condition) or in conjunction with working with a therapist (as a activity workbook).
Do you recommend any specific treatments?
I’m not qualified to give medical advise and recommend you speak, at the very least, to your GP if you have concerns or questions about available treatments for depression. I will, however, recommend you (and everyone else!) practice regular self-care.
What's "Offbeat Brains" all about?
I needed a name for my publishing imprint and the idea of expanding it into a social business/enterprise grew from there. As for the name itself: I don’t see people with mental illnesses as ‘broken’, simply a little offbeat to the way the ‘average’ (neurotypical) brain works.
Why'd you create Challenging the Black Dog?
I’ve spent more than 25 years dealing with mental health issues, but I also ended up wasting a lot of that time to struggling and barely keeping my head above water because I was unable (and occasionally unwilling) to access appropriate mental health care and a strong support network. Over the years I’ve lost (a lot) of friends, a marriage and numerous employment opportunities because of mental illness. Some of it to the stigma attached to having a mental illness (or more), some of it to my own inability to deal with my mental health at the time. After painstakingly building my life back up since becoming a parent and finding out how much of a difference good mental health care can make I don’t want to see more young people lose time that they don’t have to with struggling, when they can, with some help and compassion, lead fulfilling lives with just as many opportunities as everyone else.
Aren't you embarrassed to have a mental illness?
Why do you have a REALLY low social media presence?
Basically: social media or sanity. I cut back heavily on social media because it was becoming an interference in my day-to-day life. I breached the ‘cardinal rule’ of authors creating a platform before publishing, otherwise I wasn’t likely to get to the point of publishing because I’m easily distracted by shiny things! However, if you really want to stalk me in my natural environment, I still sneak onto Pinterest for DIY inspiration and I post off-and-on on a Tumblr account created solely for providing original, creative prompts for fiction writers. At the moment the social media accounts for Offbeat Brains are in development.
What are trichotillomania + fibromyalgia?
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder. Basically it’s an urge that results in you pulling out your hair (and can include all forms of hair on the body). My tendency is to pull out my head hair (which is an improvement over my earlier years which also involved trichophagia a.k.a. hair eating) and eyebrows. For me it’s usually in response to feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated or suppressed anger. These days I keep most of my hair shaved in the areas I would normally pull, and any area with length is dyed bright colours as a form of aversion therapy (it’s slowly working). Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that involves chronic widespread pain and a heightened pain response to pressure. Other symptoms include extreme tiredness, memory problems and sleep issues. The cause is unknown, treatment is difficult and even though it is neither degenerative nor fatal, the chronic pain is pervasive and persistent.


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