A new way of looking at depression; an interview with author Martin Usborne

“My Name is Moose” by Martin Usborne is clever & moving

By Ian Birch

This book is a brilliant photo-story of personified dog Moose and his first-person journey through the first year of his life, during which Martin (his owner) becomes out-of-work in the recession, and depressed, and it’s only when Moose is run over and Martin has to take on the role of caring for him that Martin recovers from his depression.

I think it’s clever, sweet, funny and moving – and the photography and captions are brilliant.

My Name is MooseMartin Usborne, the owner or “animal guardian” of Moose, who’s a miniature schnauzer, has a long history of taking unusual portraits of people connected with mental health – from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke out in November 2010 about cuts to rural mental health services, to a variety of famous people who’ve suffered mental health difficulties – Frank Bruno, who was sectioned and diagnosed with bipolar, Alistair Campbell, who suffered depression and is an ambassador for the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign (I blog for them), and Melvyn Bragg, who spoke openly about his battles with depression in 2006 and resigned on 20th June as president of Mind after 15 years.

Martin has also photographed Duncan Bannatyne, who  Mental Healthy editor Charlotte Fantelli has met and interviewed (see link below), who did the voiceover for Mind’s Taking Care of Business campaign recently.

Famous portraits of people with mental illnesses

I asked Martin about his background and the reasons why he had photographed so many famous people with mental health links – surely this couldn’t be a coincidence?

 “It’s partly because I’ve done work for Mind, the mental health charity, and some of the pictures have been either at their events or because I’ve done shoots for them.”

Moose is a miniature schnauzer and was one year old at the time Martin wrote the book.  He told me all about what makes Moose, and dogs generally, such loving and important companions when you’re mentally unwell:

“I actually think there’s something about the relationship with animals and dogs in particular which, of course, makes them very special, but I’ve had dogs before and had a similar experience. There’s something so accepting about a dog and they’re so loyal and so unquestioning – all the qualities that one doesn’t give oneself when one has depression.”

I told Martin I have a loyal and adoring 5 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and can’t overestimate her importance when I was suicidal and recovering from depression – an illness referred to in the book as Martin’s “black dog” – borrowing Winston Churchill’s phrase.

Inspiration and poetic licence

Martin was out of work in the recession when he wrote the book and, although there’s a certain amount of poetic licence in the text, Martin wrote the words himself, and he did so through Moose’s point of view, and it’s this which makes the book so endearing and sweet.  Martin told me what his inspiration was for the book:

“The book was inspired by one of my favourite photography books, called Ernie, which is quite a cult classic and it’s a book about a photographer’s cat, in New York, and it always struck me there wasn’t an equivalent of a photographer’s dog. And so I initially thought it would be rather fun to just write simply a story about life in London from a dog’s point of view.  But at the time I was experiencing some of the difficulties in the book.  And so the story about the black dog and the depression just found its way into the narrative.  Of course it’s not a true story in the sense there’s no actual black dog – it’s poetic licence.”

I asked Martin if he felt comfortable talking about his black dog?

“I feel it’s my duty to talk about it.  I think particularly amongst young men it has been a bit of a taboo and is becoming less so but there are still men out there who don’t like to admit to it so I feel as a sufferer of depression it’s my duty to talk about it.”

Moose's car accident

In the book, Moose describes how his owner recovered from depression when he was run over by a car and Martin had to look after him.  I asked Martin if this, too, was a little poetic licence, and he agreed that it was.  He explained:

“It’s not as simple as that.  I’ve had depression that’s come up and down in waves and certainly recently it’s been helpful, although it was a big shock when it happened and when loved ones get hurt you really do start to prioritise what’s important in life and give it some perspective.  And also, just after the book was written, Moose got meningitis and this was much more touch and go and he was in hospital for a long time and this was quite distressing.  But he’s pulled through now and he’s back on his paws.”

Moose has his own blog and Martin posted about the Shoreditch Dog Festival, where Moose recently came second.  “I can’t quite believe that he won best behaved.  In fact he’s going to behavioural classes soon because he never quite comes when he’s meant to come – runs after things in the park.”

Moose's blog

Moose also sneaks on Martin’s bed and Martin told me he woke up with a headache one morning, lying face down it the pillow.  The reason was that Moose had started burying bones under his pillows.   Martin has a great sense of humour and I asked him if he’d managed to maintain any of this during his deep depression.   He didn’t.  But he said: “If you can take a light-hearted view on things like dogs do - they don’t take things too seriously - then I think things can be easier, and hopefully the book will bring a smile or two to people who’ve been there, then the book’s done its job.  But when you’re down, you’re down.  What you need is people to understand you, and to be given space, and to be allowed to be depressed, is more important than anything else.”

Martin told me that, through his website, he hopes people who have been touched by “My Name is Moose” will contact him:

“I’d love to hear from people if it’s helped them in any way at all.  It if provides them with any sense of relief then that would be wonderful.  I’d like to send my heart out to people who’ve been depressed and are depressed.  In fact some of my other photography is connected to depression and my experience of depression.   I’ve done a series of pictures of dogs in cars, which has probably been my most popular series I’ve ever done – it’s on my website – but it’s really informed by that feeling when you’re depressed of being trapped inside – some sort of space in which you can’t reach people -- you can see out but it can’t be reached.”

“And it was not long ago that someone came to me and said to me that they’d like to buy a print and we were talking and they said it was for her daughter, who was in hospital being treated for depression, and that was very moving for me.  A lot of people see the pictures and they think it’s just funny or quirky but it’s actually all about that experience of being depressed.”

Where to buy "My Name is Moose"

“My name is Moose” is available now in hardback from all good bookshops or available to order from Amazon (see link below) with free delivery. It costs just £5.96 from Amazon and is a brilliant read.  I’m so glad I got a free copy to review and it really made my day reading through it and looking at all of Martin’s fabulous photographs. Martin is actively seeking commissions and his website is below.


Charlotte’s blog about her interview with Duncan Bannatyne – the interview appeared in issue 4 of Uncovered Magazine - http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/blogs/lunch-with-duncan-bannatyne-and-ocd

Buy the book here

Useful links


Watch Moose walking through Hoxton, East London, on Vimeo

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