Hope for Depression Blog

Guest Bloggers

  • Louisa Benton

    Executive Director

  • Steven P. Roose, M.D

    Professor of Clinical Psychiatry

  • Huda Akil, Ph.D

    DTF Chair

Teens, Social Media and Mental Health Symposium, Thursday 17 May 2018
Elyse Fox, Teens and Leading Voices in Mental Health made up the panel.

Whether you were in the audience or watched via Live Stream, we want to thank you for helping to make HDRF’s Symposium on Teens, Social Media and Mental Health last week a resounding success.

Is social media making teens depressed?   We addressed this question with a panel of doctors, writers and young activists who shared their stories in a public forum on Tuesday, May 8 at the Paley Center for Media before an audience of over 125 people, including many NYC teens and their parents.  Also in attendance were actors Justina Adorno, ABC’s Grand Hotel, Matt Flynn, FOX’s Gotham, Robert Manzell, Netflix’s Iron Fist, and Alyssa Kempinski, HBO’s the Deuce.

The panel offered remarkable insights and included Em Odesser, 17, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Creator of Teen Eye Magazine; writers Scarlett Curtis and Philip Eil; doctors Alexander Harris, MD, PhD; Marianne Chai, Medical Director, New York Center for Living; and UCLA’s Dr. Yalda T. Uhls, author of Media Moms and Digital Dads, A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age. The moderator was Elyse Fox, founder of Sad Girls Club, and online and IRL forum for young people to talk about mental health openly.

What we learned?

The Alarming Studies and How to Understand Them

Over the past five years, depression rates have spiked in young people by 33 percent, and suicide rates in girls have jumped by 65%. Many experts say this alarming trend is linked to the rise of social media. Recent studies show that teens and young adult users who spend the most time on Facebook and other platforms have a substantially higher rate of reported depression (from 13 to 66 percent) than those who spend the least time.

However, it is important to understand the difference between causation and correlation. Is social media actually “causing” depression?  Or are kids turning to social media because other factors and trends in society are making them depressed?

More research is needed to fully understand the effects of social media on mental health, the doctors on the panel said.

Social Media Can Distort and Create Community

The panel agreed that heavy use of social media can be harmful to self-esteem; case in point is the rise of the term “FOMO,” or “Fear of Missing Out.”   Teens are especially susceptible to the feeling of being left out by their peers, and 24-7 social media can exacerbate this.  “We should not judge our interiors by everybody else’s exteriors,” said Panelist Em Odesser, age 17.

However, social media can also be a lifeline to a sense of community when a teen feels bullied or isolated. Panelist Scarlett Curtis noted that when an illness kept her housebound, social media was her only source of friendship, community and career success. Odesser added, “If it wasn’t for social media, I would be far lonelier because in a community that I don’t always feel that comfortable in, I can text my best friends in other continents and feel better.”

Moderation and Parental Guidance is Key

Psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Chai urged the teens in the audience to check in with themselves and take ownership of their use of social media. Is something online making them feel upset?  If they are experiencing negative emotions, they should skip social media for a few days and share their feelings with a trusted adult.  They should also examine their reasons for signing back on to social media.

Parental guidance is also key. Adolescent brains are still developing which can lead to impetuous decisions and posts that can have lifelong consequences.  Panelist Dr. Yalda Uhls said “We need to teach kids how to have a positive digital footprint.” She advised taking advantage of “ teachable moments”  – a social media scandal in the news can be used to guide teens about their own online behavior.  She added that every social post holds weight in this society and can have severe implications. “Parents need to be role models and have a positive digital citizenship” Uhls added.

The upshot?

All panelists agreed that social is media here to stay and in fact the platforms that teens use are constantly changing. Therefore, we must look at both the pros and the cons and learn to adapt the new technology to positive ends.   Dr. Alex Harris advised parents, family, and friends to pay attention to any warning signs.

If you see an abrupt change, where a child or young adult is using social media a lot more than usual or a lot less than usual, then it is a good time to check in. It’s as basic as the Goldie Locks theory – is your child using social media too little or too much – it is up to the parents to help their child find what it just right!

Helpful Links:

Child and Adolescent Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/index.shtmlBelow are useful resources that came out of the day offering quality information on adolescent brain development, mental health and media use:

  1. Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
  2. Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study: https://abcdstudy.org/index.html
  3. Teen Depression, NIMH: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml
  4. The Teen Brain: 6 Things to Know: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-6-things-to-know/om-16-4307_153233.pdf
  5. The American Academy of Pediatrics just published their new technical guidelines on treating adolescent depression: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Publishes-Teen-Depression-Guideliness.aspx

Helpful books:

  1. Media Moms Digital Dads, Yalda T. Uhls
  2. So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, John Ronson
  3. Screen Smart Parenting, Jodi Gold
  4. Raising Digital Natives, Devorah Heitner

Where to get help

  1. 911 – Some social media sites have a process to report suicidal content & get help. It’s still important to call 911 if someone is posting suicidal messages or something disturbing on social media
  2. TXT 4 HELP, Safe Place: http://www.nationalsafeplace.org/txt-4-help
  3. Suicide Prevention Life Line: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org call: 1-800-273-8255 text: 741741
  4. 7 Cups: https://www.7cups.com/

If you missed it, and you would like to watch, click here!

HDRF Hosts Fourth Annual Palm Beach Chairman’s Council Dinner with NFL Legend Joe Namath, Thursday 29 March 2018

We held our fourth annual Palm Beach Chairman’s Council Dinner this past Sunday night at the beautiful Club Colette in Palm Beach.

It was a very special evening featuring NFL legend Joe Namath, who spoke about his recovery from brain injury and his commitment to neurological research.

We also gave a brief update on HDRF’s exciting progress through the collaborative research of the Depression Task Force.  They now have three specific compounds in pilot clinical trials that represent potential new categories of anti-depressants.

Tables were decorated with bright spheres of yellow roses to evoke the Foundation’s logo and its signature color of hope.  For a slideshow of the event, please click here.

We created the Chairman’s Council to honor donors who make annual gifts of $10,000 or more to HDRF’s advanced depression research.  Members of the Council participate in an active schedule of events and have insider’s access to HDRF’s team of psychiatrists and neuroscientists.  Please contact us if you would like to learn more.

The Palm Beach Daily News covered the event with a fun twist.  Please click here to read the story.

We thank our Chairman’s Council and each and every one of you who have supported HDRF’s unique research model.

Love and the Brain, Monday 5 March 2018

Human connection is good for the brain.


Happy March!  We mentioned at the start of the year that we’d share with you monthly tips on staying brain healthy.

So with spring just around the corner, we want to take this opportunity to talk about love and human connection.

Thanks to neuroscience research, we know our brains are healthiest when we feel connected with others.  That’s because social interactions actually boost chemicals in our brains that increase happiness and decrease pain and anxiety.

Conversely, loneliness can be very bad for our health.  Here are a few ways to trigger the system that works to make you happier*.  It all has to do with oxytocin, a brain chemical known as the “love hormone”:

  • Hugs and handshakes:  Touching is one of the main ways to release oxytocin.  Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back can work.  For people you’re close with, long hugs are particularly good.
  • Massage: Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins.  Massage also improves sleep by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.  So if you’re feeling out of sorts, get a massage.
  • Interact with friends: That doesn’t mean reading their posts on Facebook.  Make a plan — Do something fun! Studies show that individuals who interact regularly with supportive friends and family members are more resilient to stress.
  • Be around people: Sometimes when we’re low, making plans with other people can feel overwhelming.  In that case, it can help to go to a library or a coffee shop.  You don’t need to interact with others; just being in the same physical space can help.

Modern life can be frenetic, but spring is always a reminder to get out and smell the roses with people we hold dear.  Humans are a social species and our brains function best when we nurture and activate our social circuits.


*From The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb, PhD



Treating the Lifelong Harm of Childhood Trauma, Friday 2 March 2018

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris at The Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.


We write to share a recent article in the New York Times about a talented young doctor who has taken the national stage to shed light on depression research and treatment.

Treating the Lifelong Harm of Childhood Trauma highlights the work of pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is deeply concerned about the proven connection between childhood adversity and depression later in life.

Research shows how prolonged stress early in life can actually change our brains, making us more susceptible to depression as adults.  Now, Dr. Burke Harris calls for a national public health campaign to raise awareness about this reality.

We applaud Dr. Burke Harris for her activism and emphasize that our own Depression Task Force is at the forefront of this kind of critical brain science.  Indeed, Task Force member Dr. Eric Nestler spoke directly about the link between early life stress and depression at our November HOPE Luncheon Seminar.

To view Dr. Nestler’s illuminating talk, click here.

If you would like a copy of Dr. Nestler’s slides, please contact Anais Rivera at ar@hopefordepression.org.

The work of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is just one example of how advances in depression research can improve treatment and bring hope to millions.  Thank you for your continued support of HDRF’s research mission.

Enhance Your Mental Wellness, Friday 2 March 2018

Three Ways to Enhance your Mental Wellness in the New Year

Did you know that neuroscience can enhance your emotional well-being?

We use this newsletter often to tell you what we know about depression. But the flip side of the coin is that research also teaches us a lot about mental wellness.

To kick off the New Year, we’re excited to announce a new e-newsletter series dedicated to your wellness. We’ll share with you the latest information about how positive life changes can lead to positive brain changes.

In the spirit of health and happiness for 2018, here are three ways* you can keep your brain healthy in the new year:

1) Regular Exercise

Just 15 minutes of exercise changes the electrical activity in your brain’s mood centers. Regular exercise makes your brain stronger and more resilient to stress by increasing nerve growth factors.

2) Better Sleep

Sleep cleanses your brain and enhances its function. Most people need about eight hours. Create a routine to wind down before going to bed; make your bedroom a work-free haven. No TV or computer screens!

3) Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and increase the brain’s production of serotonin – an important neurostransmitter. Regardless of your life’s circumstances, the gratitude circuit in your brain can be strengthened. Make gratitude a daily part of your routine by taking a few minutes each day to write down three things you are grateful for.

We’ll start by saying we are grateful for you!

We appreciate your care and interest in the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. With your support, we’ll continue to make great progress in research in the year ahead.