Levy portrait

Deborah Levy


Date: Friday, October 11, 2013
Time: 7 PM
Place: Hager Auditorium, Museum of the Rockies

Title: The Experience and Science of Mental Illness: Let’s Talk

Sponsoring department: Cell Biology & Neuroscience


In this lecture, Jessie Close and her son Calen Pick of Bozeman will discuss their struggles with bipolar disease and schizophrenia (respectively). Dr. Deborah Levy, a clinician and researcher at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, will present an overview of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and what we know about the causes, treatment and science underlying these illnesses. This promises to be a fascinating evening showing how the experience of mental illness and the power of basic science can inform our understanding of the human condition.

About the speaker:

Dr. Deborah Levy and her colleagues are engaged in breakthrough research into the genetic causes of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. This research can furnish invaluable clues about the biological underpinnings of these severe illnesses—and, in turn, lead to individually tailored treatments to people suffering from these diseases.

Dr. Levy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1972 and completed a Ph.D. in Psychology at the same institution in 1976. She completed a clinical internship at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in White Plains, New York in 1976-1977, after which she received postdoctoral training in clinical psychology at the Menninger Foundation from 1977-1979. She then returned to Chicago, where she was Director of Psychology and Chief of the Neurophysiology Laboratory at Illinois State Psychiatric Institute (ISPI). While at ISPI, Dr. Levy studied aspects of oculomotor function, particularly smooth pursuit eye movements, in order to characterize the nature of this dysfunction in schizophrenia. These studies established the independence of eye tracking dysfunction from treatment with antipsychotic medications, its specificity for schizophrenia, its co-familiality and its genetic underpinnings. After moving to Hillside Hospital-Long-Island Jewish Medical Center in 1987, Dr. Levy continued her work on eye tracking dysfunction and launched a family study to examine the co-aggregation of several other endophenotypes for schizophrenia among first-degree relatives. She showed that thought disorder, another trait that is associated with schizophrenia, is found in a substantial proportion of clinically well first-degree relatives. Further, the same characteristics of thought disorder that distinguish adult-onset schizophrenic and bipolar patients are also found in adolescent-onset patients. After moving to McLean Hospital in 1991, Dr. Levy expanded her research to include other co-familial traits (evoked potentials, craniofacial dysmorphology) and to probe the pathophysiology of eye tracking dysfunction. Dr. Levy’s current work is heavily focused on identifying risk genes for schizophrenia and clarifying the role that endophenotypes may play in elucidating the biological actions of these genes.

Jessi Close of Bozeman is the sister of Glenn Close, with whom she has done all the PSAs for BringChange2mind.org. She is an internationally recognized and award winning speaker, author, poet and advocate for mental health reform. She has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her life, but wasn’t properly diagnosed and treated until a hospital stay in 2004. She lives in the foothills of the Tobacco Root mountains with her service dog, Snitz, and three other dogs. Her memoir, Resilience, will be out January 2015. You can find her blogs at BringChange2Mind.org.Close is actively involved in spreading the Bring Change 2 Mind mission of tackling the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness.