Persons suffering from anxiety, biological depression or winter depression are being sought for ongoing studies at the Mood Disorders Clinic in the University of Utah department of psychiatry.

The only one of its kind in the Mountain West, the clinic was established seven years ago to evaluate new medications not yet available to the public.Two of the three studies involve clinical drug trials. One will monitor the effects of two new anti-depressant medications, nefazodone and sertraline, on "biological" depression, a condition characterized by chemical imbalances in the nervous system.

Anti-depressants appear to be an effective treatment for most patients suffering from biological depression, said Dr. Joanne Brown, clinic program coordinator.

She says the drugs apparently stimulate chemical substances in the brain and cause changes in protein receptors, which enable patients to cope more effectively with normal as well as stressful situations.

"Some 15-25 percent of the U.S. population will suffer at least once from a serious bout with biological depression which, if not treated, can last many months, even years," Brown said. "Candidates for this study may have experienced dramatic changes in weight, appetite or sleep patterns; fatigue; decreased sexual drive; feelings of self-reproach, excessive or inappropriate guilt or worthlessness; diminished ability to concentrate; little or no interest in people or life in general, or recurrent thoughts about suicide."

Brown believes the drugs currently being tested in the Mood Disorders Clinic "may be more effective, with fewer side effects, for many patients for whom currently available anti-depressants have not worked."

Following an initial screening to confirm the diagnosis of biological depression, patients are placed in one of several different studies. Their medications, doctor visits, assessments, laboratory work and hospital costs are free.

The anti-anxiety medication being tested in the second study, gepirone, "seems to be more effective without being addictive, and it doesn't appear to impair mental activity or concentration," Brown said.

The specialists will screen patients for the anxiety drug trial, looking for chronic symptoms such as tension, fear, worry, anticipation of misfortune to self or others, trembling, muscle aches, a pounding heart and even clammy hands. Medications and associated costs of the study are free to the volunteers.

In both the anxiety and biological depression studies, volunteers must be 18 or older. Women must either be surgically sterile or one year post-menopausal.

Victims of winter depression - people who spirits plummet as the days shorten in the fall and winter and usually don't bounce back until spring - are targets of the third study.

Typically winter depression patients are female, ranging in age from 21-40, who have a lowered energy level and lose interest in life as winter sets in. They overeat and oversleep as the depression takes hold.

Brown speculates that Utah may have a greater than average incidence of winter depression and that this may relate to inversions, which decrease the intensity of light. She and a colleague, Dr. Break LeBegue, are soliciting seasonally depressed people to participate in a study using light therapy.

Volunteers will be required to sit for two hours in their own homes every weekday for one month in front of a light box that is approximately 10 times brighter than artificial light. It is roughly equal to the sunlight that filters through a window on a clear spring day.

Potential patients should have no unstable medical problems and should be experiencing winter depression for at least the second consecutive season. They will be given an initial evaluation and several psychological tests.

For additional information about the studies, call the U. Mood Disorders Clinic, 581-8806.