Our mental health is one of the most over looked health issues that we face. How we feel mentally affects every aspect of our lives.

Is there a difference between sadness and depression? Is anxiety a normal part of adolescence? Are feelings of depression in older adults normal?

The answer to all three of these questions is no. According to the CDC, it is estimated that 20 percent of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern, and according to the U.S. Department of Mental Health and Social Services, one in five adolescents has had a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life.

The good news is that by promoting positive mental health and getting the needed help, we can change the way we look at anxiety and depression.

There is a big difference between feeling sad and depression. Feeling sad, lonely or grief when you go through a difficult life experience is part of being human and most of the time you can bounce back.

Depression is a mood disorder that begins to interfere with your work, sleep or recreation. You may have feelings of worthlessness, constant fatigue or insomnia or experience weight changes along with your sadness. It’s not known exactly what causes depression, but a variety of factors may be involved.

Factors such as biological differences and brain chemistry (changes in your brain), hormones, inherited traits and environmental factors (substance abuse, bullying, etc.) can all influence our mental health. The problem is, our mental health is not something we want to talk about with others. Breaking the silence can be the first step to helping ourselves and others overcome feelings of anxiety and depression.

There are often warning signs to look for if you suspect you or someone else might be struggling with mental health issues. These are some of the warning signs:

• Reduced appetite

• Significant weight loss

• Significant weight gain

• Lack of energy

• Restlessness

• Change in sleep patterns

• Slowed body movements

• Sadness

• Hopelessness

• Angry outbursts

• Loss of interest

• Tiredness

• Anxiety

• Slowed thinking

• Guilt

• Thoughts of death

• Irritability

It might be difficult to tell the difference between the normal ups and downs of life. We need to determining whether we or our loved ones are capable of dealing with life’s changes.

What can we do to help ourselves and others when life becomes too overwhelming and the feeling of depression and anxiety don’t seem to go away? Mental Health First Aid offers a simple five-step action plan called ALGEE to help someone who is experiencing depression.

A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

L: Listen nonjudgmentally.

G: Give reassurance and information.

E: Encourage appropriate professional help.

E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

When you learn the ALGEE steps, you can be the difference for a family member, friend or colleague who might be experiencing depression.

There is a great website you might want to consider visiting, seizetheawkward.org. It will help give you strategies for breaking the silence and starting the sometimes awkward conversation.

Positive mental health is something we all want and with the appropriate help, we can all have. Be an advocate for yourself and the people you love.

Program announcements

Meadow Lake Kids Club, 4-5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 16 and 30, free. Meadow Lake Community Center, 100 Cuerro Lane, Meadow Lake. Youth ages 4-17.

Kitchen Creations: Diabetes Cooking School, 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays, April 17, 24 and May 1, Free. Peralta Methodist Church Community Education Building, 25 Wesley Road, Peralta. RSVP required.

StrongWomen Exercise Class, 10:30-11:30 a.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, $10. Eagle Park Community Center in Belen.

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Ann-Marie Wilson, Guest Columnist