On Wednesday, November 11th, the country’s leading non-profit dedicated to advanced depression research, Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), held its 14th annual HOPE luncheon seminar, virtually.

This year’s event honored CBS Sunday Morning host Jane Pauley, and actress and entrepreneur Taraji P. Henson, who have both urged for more open national discussion about mental health. The seminar focused on “The Value of Talk Therapy, Especially Now” and addressed the staggering mental health impact of the global pandemic. It drew over 150 guests and raised $650,000 for life-saving research.

As the guests settled onto the Zoom platform, Master of Ceremonies, Chuck Scarborough began the event by stating that 100-million Americans have symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression in the wake of the pandemic, according to a recent Census Bureau survey. He pointed to the need for solutions and stated, “This year’s survey results are not a new problem, but a deepening of existing trends.”

The keynote speaker, Dr. Robert J. DeRubeis, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, gave guests an overview of cognitive behavioral therapy and its effectiveness in treating depression and anxiety.

The event also highlighted HDRF’s first ever clinical trial to test a brand-new category of antidepressant. The two-year trial was launched this fall at Columbia University and Mount Sinai Medical Center.

“We’ve all heard about a race for a vaccine,” said Dr. Jonathan Javitch of Columbia University, who gave the update as a member of HDRF’s acclaimed Depression task Force. “The way my [Task Force] colleagues and I see it, we are in a race for new treatments for depression.”

HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton took the virtual podium and guided guests through a recap of what HDRF has done to pivot and engage meaningfully with constituents during the pandemic, including interactive meditation sessions and the virtual 5K Race of Hope in August, which raised $200,000 for depression research.

Empire and Hidden Figures star Taraji P.Henson joined the virtual gala from her home in Los Angeles to accept the Community Ambassador of Hope award. She spoke candidly about depression in the African American community and commented, “This is a national crisis… This is one of the reasons I started [The Boris Lawrence Henson] Foundation, and I did it for my son and my friends and my neighbors, because we need to discuss depression openly like any other medical illness. Depression can take lives and coupled with silence; depression is a killer.” Earlier this year, the actress launched a campaign through her Foundation to offer free “virtual therapy” services for Black Americans – especially men — unable to afford it during the COVID-19 outbreak.

HDRF Founder & Chair Audrey Gruss took the opportunity during her speech to announce many of the important research projects that HDRF will fund in the coming years. “We have chosen the most innovative and promising new medications and treatments in development across the country and provided funds to speed them into clinical trials,” she said. The winners are scientists at Mount Sinai, Johns Hopkins, University of California San Diego, University of Utah and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gruss went on to present the Hope Award for Depression Advocacy to multi-Emmy award-winning journalist and CBS Sunday Morning host, Jane Pauley, who accepted the award by sharing her story of living with bipolar depression.

Pauley said: “I don’t offer medical advice, but I tell my story and I think storytelling is very important to change the narrative which is why I was so thrilled to get the Hope Award.”

Previous honorees of the award include LeAnn Rimes, Ashley Judd, Anderson Cooper, Brooke Shields, Lorraine Bracco, and Terry Bradshaw.

Guests were moved and surprised by two musical performances during the luncheon; Tony Award Winner Rachel Bay Jones sang “I Miss the Mountains” from the Broadway musical Next to Normal, and Ross Ben Levi from Dear Evan Hansen performed a powerful rendition of “Waving through a Window.”

This is the first year the highly anticipated HOPE Luncheon was virtual, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each year, the luncheon is held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and is attended by over 300 top 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. This year, the virtual luncheon featured Zoom chat rooms that functioned like virtual “tables,” so friends and colleagues could sit together during the program.

Guests included: Serena McKnight Bowman, Jamee & Peter Gregory, Mrs. John (Susan) Gutfreund, Kim Heirston, Yaz Hernandez, Tania Higgins, Eleanora Kennedy, The Honorable & Mrs. Earle Mack, Christine Mack, Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Marigay McKee, Kitty & Bill McKnight, Muffy & Donald Miller, Anne S. Nordeman, Peter S. Paine III, Mrs. Pauline B. Pitt, Thomas C. Quick, Hilary Geary Ross, Vera & Julio Serrano, Nancy Silverman, Barbara & Randall Smith, Lis Waterman, Clelia Zacharias, Richard Ziegelasch, and Silvia Zoullas.

You can view the entire gala ceremony here.

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