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Hope For Depression 11th Annual Luncheon Seminar
Ashley Judd, Audrey Grus©Patrick McMullan/Photo - Jared Siskin/PMC
Ashley Judd, Audrey Grus
©Patrick McMullan/Photo - Jared Siskin/PMC



On Wednesday, November 8thHope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), the leading non-profit dedicated to advanced depression research, held its 11th Annual HOPE Luncheon Seminar at The Plaza Hotel where they honored actress, activist and author Ashley Judd with the 2017 HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy.


HDRF Founder & Chair Audrey Gruss saluted Ashley Judd for her bravery and compassion in speaking out about her struggle with depression. “Her willingness to share the details of her personal journey to help others learn to thrive is exactly what advocacy is about,” said Gruss.


Master of Ceremonies Chuck Scarborough began the event by acknowledging Ms. Judd for being the first major star to go on the record about her experience with Harvey Weinstein, sparking a “tsunami” of subsequent revelations that have brought dark secrets into the open. Scarborough then spoke about changing public attitudes surrounding depression and mind-brain illness in general.  He pointed out that many public figures in movies and sports have spoken out in the past year about depression, as well as the royal family: Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of York, Kate Middleton. He also informed the audience that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and that scientists are keen to better understand the genetic basis of the illness in order to better diagnose and treat this global public health epidemic.  


Keynote medical speaker Dr. Eric Nestler, a world-renowned neuroscientist, then took the stage to address the luncheon’s featured topic “The Genetics of Depression: What is Known, What is Next.” Nestler is Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai.   He is also a founding member of the HDRF Depression Task Force, a team of seven acclaimed brain researchers from different institutions across North America who are pooling expertise and data to accelerate discovery.


Nestler riveted the audience with news of the latest discoveries from his lab. He revealed he has found a new gene that appears to play a significant role in depression. He said similar recent discoveries by the Depression Task Force were now leading to pilot clinical trials of potential new treatments. 


Audrey Gruss reiterated HDRF’s dual mission to fund advanced research and to raise awareness and fight stigma. Because depression is under-funded, under-researched and misunderstood, the HOPE Seminar has become an important forum for educating the public about depression and the critical need for research. She shared the staggering statistics that major depression affects over 16 million U.S. adults annually and costs U.S. business over $100 billion each year.


HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton then announced that a feature documentary film project about the Depression Task Force is in the making, and cued a short trailer for the audience to view.


Audrey Gruss then introduced a cause marking concept to raise further awareness about depression:  hope - the uplifting fragrance, an inspiring new fragrance collection sold at select Saks Fifth Avenue stores and on 100% of net profits will go to HDRF’s depression research. The fragrance was named after Audrey’s mother Hope who struggled with depression for decades. Hope loved white flowers and surrounded herself with them, so the fragrance is a fusion of the most aromatic white flowers - lily of the valley, jasmine, gardenia and tuberose.


Audrey Gruss then presented the HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy and pointed out Ashley Judd’s candor in talking about her recovery from depression and her calling as an activist seeking social justice for women and children around the world.


Ashley Judd accepted the HOPE Award with a heartfelt speech, where she said, “I am in recovery from depression and about that I have no shame and I am a living example of why there is hope.” She spoke about her potential genetic predisposition to depression, and how thankful she was for the diagnosis of depression that she received when seeking professional help, because, “trauma not transformed is trauma transferred, and my trauma has been transformed and it’s simply here to be laid at the feet of others who may find it helpful.” She spoke about how for her depression is like “being down in the deep dark well and I just can’t get up … It’s complete and total isolation.” She said, “I was in so much pain that the pain of being willing to change was finally less than the pain of staying the same” before ending her speech by saying, “I’m aware that depression is a disease that lies. I have a disease that lies to me and tells me I don’t have a disease. It tells me I’m bad and wrong, but what I know today is I am precious. I am empowered. I am free.”   


The Luncheon Seminar Co-Chairs were Ann Barish, Caroline Dean, Peter Gregory, Kim Heirston, Tania Higgins, Margo Langenberg, Kitty McKnight, Peter S. Paine III, and Serena McKnight Bowman. Additional guests included: Frederick Anderson, Janna Bullock, Sharon Bush, Hilary Geary Ross, Jamee Gregory, Susan Gutfreund, Martin Gruss, Dayssi Kanavos, Kathy Hilton, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Karen LeFrak, Julie Macklowe, Scott Snyder, Jamie Tisch, Christine Mack, and Jackie Weld Drake.




HDRF's mission is to fund the most innovative neuroscience research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and other mood disorders – bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety disorder and suicide.


In 2010, HDRF launched its Depression Task Force (DTF) – an outstanding collaboration of seven leading scientists, at the frontiers of brain science, from different research institutions across the U.S. and Canada. These scientists have developed an unprecedented research strategy that integrates the most advanced knowledge in genetics, epigenetics, molecular biology, electrophysiology, and brain imaging. To accelerate breakthrough research, they share ongoing results, in real time, at the HDRF Data Center. For more information, visit:


Gerard Mc Keon and Joyce Brooks.  Photo by:  Rose Billings/

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