Hope For Depression Research Foundation Honors Dakota Johnson at their 17th Annual Luncheon

Resilience: Emerging Stronger From Life’s Greatest Challenges
Now Reading:  
Hope For Depression Research Foundation Honors Dakota Johnson at their 17th Annual Luncheon

On November 14, 2023, Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) hosted its 17th Annual HOPE Luncheon seminar at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. The seminar focused on the topic of psychological resilience and new discoveries made by the esteemed Depression Task Force of the HDRF. The event drew more than 300 attendees and raised over $700,000 for life-saving mental health research.   

Mental health is no taboo topic to speak on anymore. It’s the era of wellness and self-improvement. Audrey Gruss, founder of HDRF hosts yet another seminar bringing light and more funding into the research on depression.

Master of Ceremonies, Chuck Scarborough led the seminar during which top scientists and psychiatrists spoke on the topic and discussed strategies for developing psychological resilience. The term resilience describes one's capacity to "bounce back" following adversity. 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. 

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 to analyze billions of electrical signals at once and find coherent patterns.”

Photo credits: Dan Bassini

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.” 

The seminar concluded with Audrey Gruss presenting Dakota Johnson with the 2023 HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy. Other awardees were Sage Therapeutics, which received the HOPE Corporate Visionary Award; and Michael Dudgeon, who received the HOPE Community Award for his commitment to funding advanced depression research. “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.”

Johnson is a BAFTA-nominated and award-winning actress and producer. Her most recent role was as the lead in the movie Daddio, which she produced through her production company TeaTime Pictures. It debuted at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and will be distributed at a later date in 2024. She will next be seen in the much-anticipated Madame Web

As someone who is no stranger to mental health, Johnson has continuously been open about her struggles with depression. Her advocacy has brought much light onto resources that may not have been so readily available or accessible before. During her speech, she shares ways in which she copes with her own struggles. Tactics like transcendental meditation, therapy, body work like rolfing, reading books like “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, moving your body, breathwork, freeform writing, and more. Her openness and genuine stance in the topic was validating. 

“As long as you are not harming yourself or others, whatever helps you, helps you”, Johnson expresses. “Removing the stigma from anxiety and depressive disorders and the means to help them is essential”. I had the opportunity to speak to Johnson and express my gratitude in using her platform for so much good. 

Previous recipients of the Hope Award for Depression Advocacy include Aly Raisman, Michael Phelps, LeAnn Rimes, Ashley Judd, Brooke Shields, Taraji P. Henson, Richard Dreyfuss and Terry Bradshaw. 

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. 

Learn more about the Hope For Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) here.

Header photo credits: Sean Zanni