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Researcher explores exercise as cure for teen depression

about health promotion and disease prevention, about her current study on adolescent depression and her need for more Denver recruits.

Dunn started her research on the effects of exercise when she was a graduate student at the University of Georgia. Through a grant from Depression Outcome Study Exercise, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Dunn is researching the effects of exercise on adolescent depression. Denver youth ages 12 to 17 are eligible to participate with parent and recreation therapist oversight. The teens receives a free year long membership to a Denver public facility and expert help.

Q.Where did the idea for the study come from?

A. It came from my interest in exercise as a potential treatment for depression. When you ask most people they tell you that they exercise to reduce stress. I’ve had a long history in studying animals and the impact exercise has on them. I also had experience with adults. The previous studies are low quality and inconclusive in adolescents. Most depression begins in childhood and adolescence. If you catch it early, hopefully you can prevent chronic disease later on. People often wait for years before getting treatment. Exercise has anti-depressant qualities. It changes the brain chemicals.

Q. What does the study consist of?

A. It is a pilot study that includes focus groups with parents and teens. We get their opinions to see what would work best for them for an exercise program. We also have designed a manual of procedures that includes questions parents may have and it helps maintain safety. There are two assessments that need to be done before the exercise begins for about two weeks. The assessment is to ensure that the participant is eligible for the study. During the 12-week study, there are assessements done by the clinicians throughout and the exercise is supervised by a trained recreational therapist. The participants get to pick from the treadmill, stationary bike and the elliptical. It doesn’t seem to depend on the exercise type. What seems to matter is the amount of exercise based on the data that is available. It is too early to give out results from the pilot study. We have about seven participants right now and we are hoping to get 20 to 25 more.

Q. Why are you targeting just Denver?

A. We want a project that is manageable for a smaller staff. We are working with a Denver recreational center and they have been great.

Q. How big of a problem is depression?

A. The rate of depression is highly prevalent in teens and adults. It has been predicted in the next 10 years it will be the number one disability. Depression is often under-treated. There is $80 billion in lost productivity due to depression in this country. This is a problem in kids because they don’t do well in school.

Q. What tips do you have for parents?

A. If teens become isolated, they need to be evaluated. There are lots of places like schoolhouse clinics in Denver and community mental health centers.

Q. What are the signs of depression?

A. The signs of depression are irritability, not sleeping well (or too much), changes in appetite (over/under eating), loss of coordination and confusion.

Q. What are the risk factors for depression?

A. It can run in the family if parents have depression. Stress is a major factor, and drug use.

Q. What resources can parents seek out?

A. Parents can seek help from the following: a pediatrician, community mental health centers, National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health of Colorado and the Second Wind Fund.

Q. Who is eligible to participate in the study?

A. Eligible participants must be 12 to 17 years old, and experienced symptoms of major depression, which include five or more of the following symptoms, during a recent two-week period:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble with appetite
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem or guilt
  • Loss of pleasure or enjoyment, or loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide

Participants are NOT eligible if they:

  • Are currently receiving treatment for depression
  • Have had past or present hypomanic or manic episode(s)
  • Are having active symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations or delusions
  • Are having significant problems with alcohol or street drug use
  • Are pregnant
  • Live outside of Denver

If you are interested in enrolling your son or daughter in the study, call the screening line at 303-565-4321, Ext. 3673, or visit DOSE for Teens. Researchers are recruiting participants until the fall.

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