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Depression topic of Given lecture

Aspen Times Staff Report

Dr. Karen Swartz, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Hospital, will talk about various mood disorders and their treatment at the Given Institute tonight.

The presentation, which will also involve neurobiochemist Dr. Phyllis Bronson, begins at 7 p.m., following a 6:30 p.m. reception. The evening is free and open to all.

“There’s a tremendous amount of bad information about depression out there,” said Swartz, who has spent much of her professional career studying depression and other mood disorders. She sees the lack of education of the public to be one of the main barriers to its effective treatment.

Swartz and Bronson, who practices in Aspen, will examine various mood disorders and their treatment, focusing specifically on disorders and illnesses that affect teenagers.

“Many people don’t view depression as a treatable illness,” said Dr. Swartz. “They see it as something you just have to `get over.’ “

Most people think that depression has to have a cause, when in fact what most people consider causes are merely triggers. “If you pet a cat and it triggers an asthma attack, we don’t say that the cat caused the asthma,” she says.

Yet if stress triggers a depressive episode, people often concern themselves with the stress, thinking that the depression will go away. “Solving the stressor will not necessarily solve the depression,” Swarz said.

Mood disorders do sometimes have a clear cause, as the work of Dr. Phyllis Bronson has shown. Dr. Bronson is a biochemist who has had tremendous success in treating patients through an integration of nutritional and drug therapies.

She finds that many types of depression have very clear biochemical causes, and that blanket diagnoses are rarely effective. “I’ve had fantastic results using talk therapy in combination with biochemical approaches, often as an alternative to antidepressants or stimulants,” she says.

The doctors’ presentation will take an in-depth look into the mental health of teens, a demographic in which diagnosis is particularly difficult. “Moody teens” are as old as society itself, and the doctors will examine exactly where a certain normal surliness or withdrawal becomes a bona fide medical problem.

Dr. Bronson will speak to general mood disorders, while Dr. Swartz will address depression and illnesses such as bipolar disorder and manic depressive disorder.

The two will also give an overview of treatments, from Dr. Bronson’s pioneering work in orthomolecular chemistry to more traditional treatments such as antidepressants, family and psychotherapy, and bright light therapy.

“Medical science is at a place with mental health much like its place regarding coronary hypertension 100 years ago,” says Dr. Swartz. “We can recognize it and treat it, but we don’t really know the mechanism whereby the treatments are working.”

The presentation will also include a screening of the short film “Day for Night: Recognizing Teenage Depression,” in which teenagers who have suffered from the disease tell their stories.

Tonight’s talk is the fourth of five in the Given Institute’s winter lecture series. The public presentations are offered as an opportunity for local citizens and visitors to interact with and benefit from the visiting faculty.

For more information, contact the Given Institute at 100 East Francis Street in Aspen; by phone at 925-1057; fax at 544-9758; or visit the Web site at http://www.giveninstitutute.org.

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