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 (@janeburns)

Professor of Innovation at the Social Innovation Research Institute at Swinburne University. Chair of Open Arms and STREAT and Non-Executive Director of InnoWell and APPLI.

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, Ph.D. (@DrBrianRLittle)

Fellow, Well-Being Institute, Cambridge University. Internationally acclaimed author, scholar and speaker in the field of personality and motivational psychology.

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 (@PatMcGorry)

Professor of Youth Mental Health, Orygen (National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health) and the University of Melbourne

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 for 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

Challenging the Black Dog reminded me of the strength I gained as I went through my depression and anxiety. Although at the time it felt impossible to have any kind of happiness, I look back now and see my depression as a blessing. I used a few techniques in this book, ones that I had to research on my own since sitting in front of psychiatrists wasn’t my piece of cake. I’m also very stubborn too. 

There are many old and new ones in this book that I wish I had back then to help me tame my Black Dog. They are ones that I can still use today in my everyday life. There are techniques here to help calm your ‘Black Dog’ and create awareness around what triggers the darkness. 

Similar to training our muscles to become stronger, our minds can be trained to be strong and content. We can train our ‘Black Dog,’ all we need is a little bit of guidance to get there. This book is a resource that you can use as a guide to psychological well-being. It guides you to see the courage and strength that you have to step into the light. 

You don’t have to have depression and/or anxiety to read this. It has tools that you can use in everyday life. Your life is the most unique thing you’ll ever have. 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 own corner, there to use anytime, anywhere.

Belle Brockhoff (@bellebrockhoff)

Professional Snowboarder, 2x Olympian, 4x World Cup Gold Medalist

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 (@thebiganxiety)

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, UNSW AUSTRALIA & Director of The Big Anxiety: festival of arts + science + people

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 (@samwebbau)

Actor & Co-founder of Mental Health Organisation, LIVIN.

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 (@MarkRPellegrino)

Actor, Supernatural & 13 Reasons Why

As a creative work developed by someone who’s walked the path, this is a ‘real and raw’ tool to help people with self-harming behaviour(s) better understand where they’re coming from. Silencing the inner ghosts is an engaging collection of questions, challenges and activities for self-expression and self-reflection that can help people find valuable clarity amidst the turmoil of everyday life. Every activity can be used to develop insight into troubling thoughts and emotions, but it’s also easy-going enough so users can choose their own journey and take what’s needed.

Dr Justin Chapman

Mental Health Researcher: QIMR Berghofer, PCYC Queensland, Metro South Addictions and Mental Health

[Silencing the Inner Ghosts is] a very useful tool for trying to control the often uncontrollable push to self-harm. A user-friendly guide to overcome difficult moments.

Professor Diego De Leo

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Griffith University, Author & Expert on Suicide Prevention


I’ve read a good amount of self-help books and articles, and a lot of them just really feel condescending and unhelpful. My personal theory is that a lot of those books are written by authors that are neurotypical and haven’t actually experienced mental illness. (It would explain why the writing tends to feel harsh, clinical, and sort of patronizing.)

This book is not like that. This book is incredibly honest, and written by someone who not only has depression, but has personally used these exercises and activities to help deal with it. That’s a huge deal!

The writing is genuine and warm, and you can tell that the author has personal experience with what she’s talking about. Even the font it’s printed in is pleasant to look at, and it actually helped me focus on the words better, which is awesome because that’s something I struggle with a lot with ADHD.

The book encourages you to find what works best for you, and says that if you don’t draw (or don’t feel like drawing), you can do other things for the more artistic challenges – sculpture, welding, whatever. I don’t weld or draw, haha, but I bet yarn crafts, embroidery, origami, graphics design, etc., would work well too.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of Wreck This Book, but more constructive than destructive. You’re not wrecking this book, exactly, but you are changing it – coloring in the designs if you want, doing the mazes, drawing and/or writing on all of the pages. It’s not supposed to look the same when you’re done with it, and I like that. You get to turn it into Your Book™, whatever that means for you.

There are doodle and trigger logs, which are an amazing idea, and something I wish I had thought of before, haha. For each month you get a page to doodle on, and another to write down things that have recently triggered you. It’s such a neat way to keep track of how you’re doing each month, and lets you look back and notice patterns both in your art (and maybe your mood), and in what’s been upsetting you.

Some of the activities and questions are tough, but I think that’s a good thing. If it was too easy, it’d be sort of missing the point, so it’s nice to dig deeper. Are some of the activities corny? Sure, but that’s bound to happen. Embrace the corniness, and sit down with the book and a pencil or five, and talk some things out with yourself. Challenging the Black Dog is a great tool for that.

I really liked this book, and highly recommend it. It’s not a replacement for therapy or anything like that, but I believe that it can definitely help, if you let it. For example, if you’re not ready to start therapy yet, or if you can’t go for other reasons, this could be a good option for you! I feel like it’s been useful to me.

I was given an ARC by the author, but I stand by my review; I really think this book is helpful! I’ve marked it as read, because I have read all the way through it, but I haven’t done all of the activities yet, and I know that’ll take a lot longer. So I guess you could say I’ve read the book, but I’m not finished with it yet, haha.


Depression is a subject that has been Taboo for too many years. It is a subject that is rarely spoken about, even to this day when so many people have come out and bravely said “I have depression and I need help.” So many people misunderstand what it really means to suffer from depression; how hard it is to just “shake it off and move on.” like the rest of us.

For those with depression it can become debilitating and can sometimes result in suicide. It’s those cases that shake up a family unit and a lot of friends, because even though we know they’re struggling and we try to help, they can put up quite a front to those around them, one that convinces us that suicide is not an option, that they can fight this, that they can see they have a support system and that they will be ok.

But the truth is, those with depression are never just okay. They will always need that extra support no matter what. I, myself can suffer from depression. There have been times when rage has just taken over my body and I couldn’t control it. The stress, anxiety and expectations from myself are always set too high and I bottle it up until it spills out. There are ways to cope with it all; to set better limits for myself, to take time out and meditate, draw, write, read, practice yoga, exercise, anything to ground myself. But it’s the ability to realise where your point of no return, or the tough return is and that is a hard part to understand. I know my type of depression is not the type I can’t come back from, but there are so many others that struggle so much more than me; those that need to learn their triggers, to know when they need a time-out to centre themselves, to realise that it is okay to say ‘you’re not okay.’

Support is needed in everything that those that have depression struggle with and this book gives that kind of support; in secret, if they want, or to share with the rest of the world. It gives them other outlets to let them discover themselves in their own way – to say it’s okay if I need this time to draw, colour in, write, scream, yell, run, fight (for your life). And it is okay to take care of yourself, otherwise who really does?

Depression is a flaw in brain chemistry not character.
pg. 96

This book combines so many different outlets of creativity and imagination that it would appeal to almost everyone. There are brain activities to do, like mazes to show you that there are always ways to get out of your own mind, a situation you’re in, or to escape your own depression; and comparisons between “apples and oranges” two completely different things so that you can compare the two and realise that even though you are different to other people, those other people are also different to you, and as Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It is a beautiful thing to be different and to realise that’s what makes you even more beautiful or handsome to other people. It also gives you an inner strength that you never knew you had before.

Challenging the Black Dog also gives you opportunities to write about positive experiences, a letter to yourself, stories that reflect positive moments in your life and goals that you want to achieve. Having written it all down, gives you the opportunity to reflect on those words, when your mind is so full of darkness that it is hard to bring up anything positive. Those words that you write can help you see that there is a light burning inside that darkness; a light that can only get bigger the more you focus on it. And those words will be your focus in these times to help you through it. That’s what the author is hoping to achieve – to bring out your inner voice when that voice is suddenly snuffed out.

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light
– Aristotle, pg 30

Visualisation, like meditation, is a wonderful tool this book helps you with. It has pictures you can colour in, and those colours reflect your emotions that you are struggling with. It brings the pictures into a better light than just the greys and blacks inside of your own mind. On page 8, it gives you the chance to put your life on a timeline, to catalogue each important moment that you found had a impact on your life up until your present age, to show you that no matter how far you think you’ve come, you have gone through more what you realise, no matter how big or small. You have survived. You have grown. You have changed.

In one circumstance it asks you to draw a locked room with a monster in it; to bring it to life, so to speak and then changing that picture so that you can escape that monster. Being able to see what you are afraid of can be empowering. Bringing your fears to life, to come face to face with something your afraid of also gives you the chance to see it for what it really is, to know that just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean you can’t take it away either. You have the power to change your story, to change what is going to happened. You have the strength to pull through what you first thought was an impossible situation. By drawing a locked room with a monster inside and then magically a key appears in the room somewhere, or a stun gun turns up to immobilise the monster while you break down the door, it gives you the power to defeat that monster (depression) that is keeping you locked up in a room (your own mind).

If you’re going through hell, keep going.
– Winston Churchill pg. 178-179

This book also has the opportunity to have a friend or family member to contribute. On page 70, it suggests that you find someone you have a lot of trust in to write you a pep-talk, something you can look back on and read in moments that you need a bit of extra help with, without having to ask for it. With this opportunity it gives you the chance to “pick yourself up”, to know that you are important in someone else’s eyes and realise that you are worth every bit of breath you take, no matter how slow you may take them. Everyday moments are precious and with this written-down pep-talk, you can see what your friend or family member feels about you and how much they want you to survive this, that you are strong enough to overcome it. When people are talking to you, quite often you can tune out what they’re saying. Sometimes it can be done on purpose, sometimes it’s out of your control. Words that are spoken are often harder to hear than those that are written when you’re suffering from depression, which is why, I imagine V.J. Cast has suggested having a written pep-talk and later on down the track it could possibly be memorised and repeated like a mantra.

I like how V.J. Cast has created a book full of so many creative challenges to help you tackle depression in different ways without pointing out the obviousness of what you are doing. It helps you come to the conclusions yourself, as to what you are really accomplishing. That depression, no matter how deep you’ve been dragged down, there are many ways to escape it, to show you, that you are strong enough to stand up and fight back, to not be ashamed of who you are or needing that extra bit of help to guide you through life. It is not your fault that you suffer from depression. And it is not your fault that it is a struggle every day of your life. But with this book; this wonderfully, helpful book, you can help yourself to tackle everyday life head on and not regret a thing because you are trying, you are fighting and you are surviving everything that is thrown at you. You are enough.

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
– Oscar Wilde pg. 64



June 22 2018 – Redland City Bulletin

Verity Cast, 39, of Russell Island, has cast a net over depression with the release of a therapy journal entitled Challenging the Black Dog: A Creative Outlet for Tackling Depression.

Ms Cast said she drew on her own experiences with depression to create the journal and had input and advice from visiting island psychologist Travis Gee in proofing the final work.

The journal includes quotes, mazes, art exercises, opportunities for journaling and prompts to help people aged 15 to 25 deal with depression. It is an eclectic array of proven therapy techniques including narrative and music, art/creative and cognitive behavioural therapies and mindfulness. The journal also provides trigger and mood logs, mental health resource lists, and stress-relieving colouring pages.

“I have dealt with depression since I was a teenager and I have had an amount of therapy. It disturbs me that depression seems to be more prevalent in young people and I thought that as a person who has ‘been there, done that’, I could give advice and some exercise therapy,” Ms Cast said.

Ms Cast said her best advice was for people to take from the book what worked and ignore what didn’t.

Ms Cast said she believed her personal encounter with depression was genetic, and started when her family moved to the Middle East for seven years.

“I carried a gas mask to school. I think it started because of culture shock and changing schools and being away from family,” she said.

“I have dealt with depression since then and was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar. I couldn’t always afford a therapist, so I’ve looked at ways to manage, including changing my diet.  I decided to put everything in a book to help young people,” she said.

Ms Cast quoted statistics where less than 30 per centof teenagers got help, even though 80 per cent of sufferers could be successfully treated.

“This is mainly because, even in 2018, barriers to receiving adequate care remain, including a lack of resources, lack of understanding about depression, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders.”

The journal aims to provide a safe, private place for people with depression to get to know their personal ‘black dog’ and transform themselves into an active participant in their journey towards recovery.

Ms Cast said she hoped that the journal, which was designed and written to be much more personal than many therapy workbooks currently on the market, would help encourage more young adults to feel comfortable in being pro-active with their mental health, even if they can’t immediately access other medical interventions.

“Over the years mental illness has cost me financial security, education opportunities, employment stability, a marriage, friends, my self-esteem, and on occasion almost my life,” she said.

“I hope to make a positive difference in the lives of young people with depression and help spare them some of the intense mental pain and isolation that comes from not always being able to find or access the appropriate help early enough.”

Ms Cast currently home schools her daughter, aged 12. She is also working on other journals to be released in 2019. They are on self harm and self esteem.

Challenging the Black Dog: A Creative Outlet for Tackling Depression (RRP$24.99, 234 pages, paperback, ISBN: 978-0-6482474-0-1) is available through Amazon and other online bookstores. More on offbeatbrains.com.

Linda Muller

Journalist, Redland City Bulletin