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Hope for Depression / 17th Annual Hope Luncheon



 Dakota Johnson and Audrey Gruss. Photo Credit: Sean Zanni/PMC

 Dakota Johnson and Audrey Gruss

Photo Credit: Sean Zanni/PMC


Actress, Producer & Mental Health Advocate Dakota Johnson
Honored at 17th Annual HOPE Luncheon Seminar

Biopharmaceutical Company Sage Therapeutics also Honored

Luncheon Focuses on “Resilience: Emerging Stronger From Life’s
Greatest Challenges”

Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), the leading non-profit dedicated solely to advanced depression research, held its 17th annual HOPE luncheon seminar at The Plaza Hotel on the topic of psychological resilience, featuring top medical experts and  actor Dakota Johnson as the celebrity honoree.

The event, entitled “Resilience: Emerging Stronger from Life’s Greatest Challenges,” drew more than 300 attendees and raised over $700,000 for life-saving mental health research.   

The day included a major announcement of new discoveries by HDRF’s acclaimed Depression Task Force, a collaboration of top neuroscientists who are pooling expertise and data to find urgently needed new treatments and diagnostics for depression. 

The event also featured a heartfelt award ceremony, where acclaimed actress and producer Dakota Johnson accepted the2023 HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy. Other awardees were Sage Therapeutics, which received the HOPE Corporate Visionary Awardand Michael Dudgeon, who received the HOPE Community Award for his commitment to funding advanced depression research.  

Among the guests were Brooke Shields, a former HOPE Award recipient (2009), and her daughter Grier Henchy, who as a Teen Race of Hope Ambassador is continuing in her mother’s advocacy footsteps.

Master of Ceremonies, Chuck Scarborough began by welcoming guests and then introduced keynote speaker, Dr. Dennis Charney, Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and President for Academic Affairs for the Mount Sinai Health System. 

Dr. Dennis Charney has made significant contributions to the understanding of human anxiety and depression, and is the author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges  with Steven Southwick and Jonathan DePierro.

The book is based on extensive research with trauma survivors, such as prisoners of war who were subject to torture in Vietnam.  In his remarks, Charney shared ways to build resilience which he covers in the book, including: developing optimism, finding a supportive network, embracing a moral compass, creating positive statements about oneself, and attending to physical well-being. 

In addition, Dr. Charney shared his own personal story when he had to put resilience factors to the test after being shot by a former faculty member at Mount Sinai.  He spent weeks recovering in the I.C.U.

“Realistic optimism is key – you need to know what you are facing and not be Pollyanna about it,” he said. “But also have faith that you will prevail.”

He added, “It’s important to accept what happened without blaming yourself, and then work to get stronger.”

Charney added that finding inspiration in music was critical for him.  He listened almost non-stop to Bruce Springsteen’s “Stronger than the Rest.”

In conclusion, Charney touched on the resilience of New York City to bounce back after the 9/11 attack and Hurricane Sandy.  He said he believes New York is a resilient city because of its immigrant population and heritage of survival and grit. 

Another guest featured in the program was Dr. Kafui Dzirasa, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and a member of HDRF’s Depression Task Force.  Dzirasa gave brief remarks on how the study of depression can specifically benefit from machine learning techniques.

“The brain has over 200 billion cells and by understanding their electrical patterns, we can find new diagnostics and treatments for mental illness,” he said.  “Artificial intelligence allows us analyze billions of electrical signals at once and find coherent patterns.”

HDRF Founder and Chair Audrey Gruss took the stage to speak about the exciting progress of the acclaimed HDRF Depression Task Force.

“When I formed HDRF, my vision was to create a think tank to defeat depression, where some of the greatest neuroscientists on the planet could collaborate in a way that breaks the traditional mold of academic research,” Gruss said.  “The field was stuck, so we hoped that by working together, we would provide real results faster.” 

To unveil major research results, Gruss then introduced Dr. Eric Nestler, Chair of the HDRF Depression Task Force and Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai.   Nestler announced that the DTF’s research had identified 20 promising genetic targets for developing new antidepressants.  All of these gene targets were narrowed down from a field of over 20,000 human genes over the past ten years, and have been extensively validated for their role in depression.  The 20 new targets are now ready to go to proof of concept clinical trials. 

HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton then took the podium to discuss HDRF’s community outreach and education efforts. She highlighted HDRF’s Race of Hope 5K in Palm Beach and Southampton, as well as the Teen Race of Hope in NYC in May, and several mental health symposiums throughout the year for the general public. 

Mike Dudgeon accepted the 2023 Hope Community Award for his unwavering commitment to mental health research and support for HDRF.  In his poignant remarks, Dudgeon said that the impetus for funding depression research was the death by suicide of his 20-year-old son in 2020.  He hoped to find new cures for severe depression that shatters lives and families.  

Sage Therapeutics, Inc. a biopharmaceutical company on a mission to deliver potentially life-changing brain health medicines, received the 2023 HOPE Corporate Visionary Award. Earlier this year, Sage introduced a breakthrough new treatment for postpartum depression to the market, the first and only oral treatment option for women specifically with Post Partum Depression. 

Sage Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Mike Quirk said, “We are here to celebrate the power and importance of neuroscience research in transforming the lives of people living with mental illness.”

Audrey Gruss then presented Dakota Johnson with the HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy.  

“We are honoring Dakota because she has spoken candidly and openly in the media about her experience with depression and anxiety since being a teenager, “said Gruss.   “This kind of candor and sharing is part of the answer to the complex crisis of depression.”

In her remarks, Dakota Johnson moved the audience with her authenticity and humor.   She opened by quipping that she was honored to receive the award for best depressed person. After the audience's laughter died down, she said she was inspired by the work of the Depression Task Force to defeat depression, because her first-hand knowledge of depression is that there are no immediate answers or cures. 

She spoke about the value of therapy and medication in her journey with depression.  In addition, she practices transcendental meditation every day, and finds great relief in deep tissue massage, breath work, yoga, and swimming in natural water.

“I fully support needing the assistance of more urgent help, like the temporary use of SSRIs and EMDR or brain spotting, which I find to be incredibly amazing. As long as you are not harming yourself or others, whatever helps you, helps you.”

She concluded: “Removing the stigma of anxiety and depressive disorders and the means to help them is essential. We are in too much trouble as a human race to feel further isolated by the brain chemistry and complexities of the mind that we are born with, or the life experiences that we may not have chosen given the state of the world.   If we help each other understand that caring for our mental health is essential, perhaps that will turn practicing self-love and self-compassion into a vital part of living. And then perhaps that will radiate compassion and love for each other and the Other, and then the world we live in will also become a vital part of living.”

This year’s Event Co-Chairs included Susan Gutfreund, Maru Hagerty, Gillian Hearst, Kim Heirston, Tania Higgins, Eleanora Kennedy, Kristen Maltese Krusen, Susan R. McCaw, Kitty and Bill McKnight, Peter S. Paine III, Barbara and Randall Smith, and Scott Snyder. 

Each year, the HOPE Luncheon Seminar is held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and is attended by over 300 New York philanthropists, asset managers, business and media professionals, socialites, and celebrities who gather to raise awareness about depression and its related mood disorders as well as funds for continued research. 


Founder Sponsors: EGL Charitable Foundation


Benefactor Sponsors: Brian Flaherty, Christina Flaherty, Annemarie Flaherty Shea & Max Shea, Abraham Fuchsberg Family Foundation, Richard S. and Karen LeFrak Foundation, Paulson Family Foundation and SAGE Therapeutics.


Diamond Sponsors: James R. Borynack & Adolfo Zaralegui/ FINDLAY GALLERIES, Jamee & Peter Gregory, Tania Higgins, Kristen Maltese Krusen, Susan R. McCaw, Thomas C. Quick and Barbara & Randall Smith. 


Patron Donors: Nancy & Edmund M. Dunst / HUB International Northeast, Mary Ann Fribourg, Susan Gutfreund, Maru M. Hagerty, Gillian Hearst, Kim M. Heirston, Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Sheila & Bob Josephberg, JP Morgan Private Bank, Eleanora Kennedy, Michele & Howard Kessler, Judy & Leonard Lauder, Kitty & Bill McKnight, Peter S. Paine III, Scott Snyder, Lulu C. Wang, The Shoreland Foundation, Sarah. J. Wetenhall and Lynne Wheat.


Friend Donors: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Laura Louise Breyer, Jackie Weld Drake, The Honorable David Fischer & Jennifer Fischer, Dr. Sharon Giese, Dr. Ernst & Nataly Langner, Susan Lloyd Lundbeck, The Honorable & Mrs. Earle I Mack, Stephanie Olmsted, Betsy Pitts, Roberts & Holland LLP, and Julia Ryan.


Gold Level Donors: Carl B. Adams, Catherine Adler, Mark Antilety, Muffie Potter Aston, Paola Bacchini, Barbara Bancroft, Felice & Shelley Bergman, Judy & Howard Berkowitz, Bruce Bierman & William Secord, CeCe Black, Geoffrey N. Bradfield, Dominique Buaron, Janna Bullock, Joanna Carson, Myron Cohen & Federman Steifman, LLP, Diane Conn, Pilar Crespi Robert, Gus N. Davis, Deborah Farrington, Marjorie S. Federbush, Firmenich Inc., Frances & Jeff Fisher, Lionel Geneste, Jillian Gilmour, Darcy M. Gould, Lisa Granozio, Jessica Gruss, Mai Hallingby Harrison, Carolyn Ryan Healey, Linda Hickox, Michael Kahn & Charles Mitchem, Karen Klopp, Margo Langenberg, David Lapham, Bonnie Lautenberg, Simone Levinson, Tyler Lucas, David Lynch Foundation, Christine Mack, Ann & Cameron MacRae, Stewart S. Manger, Alberto Mariaca, Kristina Grimm McCooey, Heidi McWilliams, Muffy & Donald Miller, Diana Morrison, The Nederlander Producing Company of America, Inc., Anne Nordeman, Deborah Norville, Jane & Richard Novick, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Constance Paine, Pamela & Edward Pantzer, Stacey Pashcow, Marina Pellecchi, Kathy Prounis, Olga Reindlova Neulist, Darcy Rigas, Barbara Robinson, Frances G. Scaife, Chuck Scarborough, Nancy Schaffel, Mary Eastman Scott, Jean Shafiroff, Catherine & Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, Ramona Singer, Valerie Sloan & Sean T. Dany, Mary E. Snow, Amanda Taylor, Roxann G. Taylor, Barbera Thornhill, Lance P. Toland, Betsy & Wallace Turner, Lis Waterman, Pamela P. Williams, Barbara Winston, Clelia & Thomas Zacharias, David Zislin, Silvia Zoullas, and Maria Zoullas-Kaufman.


Gift Bag Sponsors: 4imprint, Cambridge University Press, Compendium, Eric Javits inc., The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Fishers Finery, Hope Fragrances and Sio.



HDRF was founded in 2006 by philanthropist Audrey Gruss in memory of her mother Hope, who struggled with clinical depression. The mission of the HDRF is to spur the most innovative brain research into the origins, medical diagnosis, new treatments, and prevention of depression and its related mood disorders – bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and suicide. The World Health Organization has declared depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and yet conventional medications today are outdated and do not fully work for 50% of patients.  HDRF is working tirelessly to improve the mental health landscape for every American.  The Foundation has provided more than $75 million through over 200 grants for breakthrough depression research that promises to transform the way depression is viewed, diagnosed, treated and prevented. Currently, HDRF has a potential new class of medication in pilot clinical trials at Mount Sinai Medical Center, and Stanford University. HDRF is also funding clinical trials into other novel therapeutics and diagnostic tests at Johns Hopkins, University of San Diego, and the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  


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