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Good morning. It’s a beautiful morning as I write this, and I hope you will forgive me if I put a bit of a damper on this glorious day, but it’s for our own good, and, occasionally, we have to bring some important issues to light for our continuing good health. That is what we are doing today.

Thanks to Karen Wyard, BS, MA, who is the community education manager of the Senior Behavioral Health Program at St. Helena Hospital, we learned a great deal about depression last May.

We learned in May that “Depression is not a normal part of aging.” That everyone has occasional bouts of sadness, but these feelings are usually fleeting.

Karen told us that, “When a person has a ‘depressive disorder,’ it interferes with daily life and normal functioning. There is no known single cause of depression, but it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental and psychological factors. Depression commonly coexists with other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders or alcohol/substance abuse. It can affect anyone at any time, from children to older adults.”

Recently, I was pleased to receive another letter from Karen informing me that October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. Karen wanted to encourage everyone to participate in mental health screening this month, either with a medical professional or, at least, start with an online test.

I’ll tell you more about the online test in just a moment, but I wanted to get us caught up with this important subject first.

Karen writes that “it is a fact that one in four adults suffer from some type of diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”

While depression is a common, but serious, illness, Karen writes. “The good news is that it is also a highly treatable illness.”

Last May, we talked about getting help by seeing your doctor for a medical evaluation and also making lifestyle changes: exercise and diet, getting out socializing, spending time with friends and relatives, trying new activities, etc. The first step is to get a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, a person will likely be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.

Karen reminds us that “if depression is left untreated, it can lead to an overall deterioration of health….not to mention, suicide. So I can’t stress the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression enough. Then get treatment. Just like an annual physical check-up, it’s time for that annual mental health screening. That’s the starting point to getting better.”

Karen also brought up the question of how can you help a friend affected by depression? The following are her suggestions:

— Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement.

— Be a good listener

— Never ignore comments about suicide; report them to your friend’s relative or doctor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.

— Invite your friend to do things with you: if he/she declines, keep trying, but don’t push.

— Remind your friend that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

Getting back to the screening online test, I just took it and it was easy and totally painless.

To take the screening test, go to: http://www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org/. There is also another website with screening tests for various other disorders including anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and bipolar disorder. Visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net for further help, and be sure to meet with a medical professional.

Thank you, Karen Wyard. We are grateful to you for sending us this important information, and I urge all my readers, even if you have the sunniest deposition in the world, to take these tests and make an appointment with a medical professional, if warranted. There are always areas for self-improvement in all of us. We need to work hard on keeping ourselves healthy in mind, spirit and body.

Before we say good-bye, I’d like to share with you a little of some research I’ve been doing for a future column. It’s a list of, “Six habits of happiness worth cultivating.”

— Pay attention

— Give thanks

— Drop grudges

— Keep friends close

— Get moving

— Practice kindness.

See you next week, and please join me in taking those online screening tests. I want you all to stick around for a very long time, and, like the words to Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

In every life we have some trouble. But when you worry, you make it double, Don’t worry, be happy. Don’t worry, be happy now.”

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Write to Betty at bettyrrhodes@sbcglobal.net.

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