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

Neuroscience Delivers New Drug for Postpartum Depression, Friday 22 March 2019

F.D.A. Approves Drug for Postpartum Depression

One in nine women in the United States experience symptoms of postpartum depression, a terrifying illness that is often difficult to treat.

That’s why we’re excited by news that the FDA has approved Brexanolone, a drug over 40 years in the making that is the first ever to specifically target the condition.  (New York Times: F.D.A. Approves First Drug for Postpartum Depression)

The approval of Brexanolone is a cause for celebration for the entire field of neuroscience.

“It is one of the first drugs that fulfills the promise of basic neuroscience to provide truly novel and effective treatments for psychiatric disorders,” said National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Joshua Gordon, who was also a founding member of HDRF’s Depression Task Force before he was tapped by the federal government.

Serendipitous Discoveries

Believe it or not, all of the popular anti-depressants today — such as Prozac, Zoloft and Effexor, to name a few — owe their discovery to chance.  They grew out of serendipitous discoveries of clinical benefit.  But nobody knows the exact mechanism of how they work in the brain.

Brexanolone is different.  It represents decades of basic science research that began in the 1940s and came to fruition in the 1980s (long before HDRF was created).  While the new drug will be expensive and require intravenous infusions, researchers are now working on a version that can be given as a pill.

For more details on the timeline of discovery, please see this blog post on Brexanolone by the aforementioned Dr. Gordon.

The Mind/Brain Frontier in Medicine

The upshot is this: treatment development in psychiatry is not an overnight process (although it is accelerating with the advent of powerful new tools every passing year).  It is often a long and winding road. But Brexanolone is a true “bench-to-bedside” story that underscores why basic neuroscience research today holds so much urgency for breakthrough tomorrow.

At HDRF, we advocate daily for the need for more basic neuroscience research into depression. Debilitating, deadly, and the leading cause of disability globally, depression is deserving of the vast research dollars and deep commitment that drive game-changing science.

HDRF and our Depression Task Force embody that innovation and commitment.  Our team of top minds are in prime position to take advantage of the powerful tools now available to advance the understanding of the brain’s complex mood centers.  Their basic findings are already pointing to new, more precise treatments and pilot clinical trials.

Our goal is not only treatments for depression, but, fundamentally, a cure.  Only hard neuroscience research can get us there.

Audrey Gruss Honored as Woman of Distinction by Palm Beach Atlantic University, Tuesday 5 March 2019

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter (2018 Women of Distinction honoree) , Audrey Gruss,  Laurie Silvers,
Candy Carson (2018 Women of Distinction honoree)

We are proud to announce that Hope for Depression Research (HDRF) founder and Chair Audrey Gruss recently was honored at the 2019 Women of Distinction luncheon by Palm Beach Atlantic (PBA) University in Florida.

The luncheon, held February 19 at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, is an annual event in its 28th year that honors women who have made significant contributions to the community. Proceeds fund scholarships for young women at the University.

In her remarks, Gruss told the 450 people gathered for the luncheon about her resolve to launch the Hope for Depression Research Foundation in 2006.   It was the pain of watching her own mother struggle with severe depression for over 30 years, Gruss explained, that opened her eyes to her life’s greater purpose.

“I saw a vital need for funding a new way of approaching brain research” she said.  With a biology degree from Tufts and an extensive career in international marketing, she was up for the challenge.  Today, HDRF is the leading non-profit dedicated solely to depression research and education.

This work has been guided by a key piece of life wisdom Gruss shared: “Take on something difficult and negative, and turn it into a positive. The difficult things in life can become your personal challenge.”

Reflecting on the arc of her life Gruss named two other of her biggest lessons: the value of education and the joy of giving.

“You can lose everything tangible at any moment, but no one can ever take away your education,” Gruss said.   “To the students who are here today, I say you are in the right place to start your life’s journey.”

She concluded by citing substantial scientific evidence that engaging in acts of generosity can actually increase one’s own sense of well-being.

“By being generous to others,” she said, “You not only benefit them, but also yourself.”

Gruss was honored as a Woman of Distinction along with Boca Raton resident Laurie Silvers.   We salute her for her energy, compassion and visionary leadership.

Novel Depression Treatment in the News, Friday 15 February 2019

In a milestone for the field, the new drug Esketamine is expected to be approved by the FDA

Many of you have seen in the headlines that a new antidepressant is expected to soon be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The New York Times reported yesterday that an advisory panel at the agency has voted in favor of recommending approval of the new drug, the nasal spray Esketamine, to treat severely depressed patients.  Developed by Johnson & Johnson, Esketamine is a form of ketamine,  an anesthetic for humans and also a powerful sedative for horses.  (Click here for the story.)

If approved, Esketamine would provide patients that have failed more than two depression treatments with a rapidly-acting drug that is effective in a matter of days.   Currently available antidepressants can take several weeks before they are effective.  Its rapid action makes ketamine a valuable treatment for suicidal depression.

HDRF scientists were not involved in the drug’s development—that work occurred 10-20  years ago well before HDRF’s Depression Task Force was created.  However, HDRF’s research team is involved in efforts to understand ketamine’s mechanism of action in the brain and refine the way the drug is administered.

“Esketamine represents the first new category of medication for depression in over thirty years, so we are all very excited by this milestone” said Dr. Eric Nestler, Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai and Chair of the Depression Task Force.

“However,” he added, “We need to better understand Esketamine’s impact on brain chemistry and long-term side effects.   We need to better understand how the drug works in different populations of patients.   And we need to better understand how ketamine exerts its rapid antidepressant effects so that orally available medications can be developed.”

We are excited to share this news with you and look forward to more research progress on ketamine and other novel treatments for resistant depression.

HDRF Brings Mental Health Awareness to Schools, Thursday 14 February 2019

Seated Left to Right: Jeff Lima, Kelly Lennon-Martucci, Louisa Benton, and Hope Kronman
Standing: Daniel Lampert and Aidan Golub, Student Organizers

Hope for Depression Research Foundation was proud to conduct an expert panel on “Bullying and Mental Health” at the Open Minds summit held January 10 at the Solomon Schechter High School in Westchester, NY.

Our panel consisted of mental health activists and scientists who spoke to an auditorium of 100 students and their teachers about how bullying can get under our skin to create mental and physical health problems later in life.

  • Anti-bullying advocate and actor Jeff Lima (Chicago Fire) led the way, sharing his personal story of being severely bullied as a child growing up in Spanish Harlem in NYC.
  • Neuroscientist Hope Kronman of Mount Sinai then explained how bullying can lead to life-long changes in mood centers in the brain.
  • Social worker Kelly Lennon-Martucci, head of school mental health programs at Henry Street Settlement, spoke about ways to intervene  when bullying occurs.
  • HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton moderated the panel which was followed by a lively Q and A session with the students.

Here are key takeaways from the panel:

  • Bullying can cause physical changes in the brain, for both the bully and the oppressed.
  • These changes can lead to depression and have other negative effects on the body’s immune system later on in life.
  • Children who have had been bullied are six times more likely to develop depression, and two times more likely to develop an anxiety.
  • If the bullying can be stopped, by working with the school or with the child to handle the situation, then in most cases early signs of depression will go away on their own. They will resolve naturally.

What to do as a parent:

  • Be open with your child, ask if they want to talk about anything. Check in.
  • Establish a support system. Make sure the child knows who they can turn to if they need help.

Advice for kids:

  • It is all right to be vulnerable to an adult. It is important to report the bullying to a trusted adult.
  • You are your biggest advocate. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself when you can.

Everybody should know the warning signs of depression in kids.  They include: 

  • Sudden loss of interest in activities
  • Missing school frequently
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in eating habits – eating too much or too little
  • Always feeling tired or slow
  • Expressions of low self esteem
  • Anxiety

Turn-out for the hour-long panel was robust, given that a number of other breakout sessions were also happening that morning as part of the Open Minds summit.  The entire day was organized by Schechter student activists to raise mental health awareness in their community.  Overall, they welcomed 600 guests including students from other schools, parents and teachers.

HDRF applauds the Solomon Schechter students for a highly successful event.  We were honored to participate with the panel on Bullying and Mental Health, and we will bring the panel to other schools in the tri-state area throughout the spring.

Stay tuned for more news as we expand our school outreach in 2019!

Growing Old Happy, Wednesday 6 February 2019

February! As we move into the second month of the year, we are thinking about how quickly time can pass.   For many, the start of a new year is a time to reflect on time itself and, of course, our own years of life.

Though growing old is a natural process that we all know to expect, it is important to be aware of common mental health risks that can come with advancing age.  For example, experts warn that men ages 65 and older show the highest incidence of suicide than any other age group.*

Here at HDRF we are invested in making sure everybody has the information and resources to maximize mental health, and we would like to share some tips and research with you.

One of the largest factors affecting mental health in older adults is the existence of a strong support system and community.

For older adults, remember to:

  • Reach out to loved ones for support when you need it
  • Try to form social groups with friends
  • If you’re able, make a point of seeing and interacting with others throughout your day-to-day life
  • If you are worried about your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help

For younger people with aging loved ones, remember to:

  • Regularly call or visit your loved one
  • Ask them about their life just as much as you share about yours
  • Offer resources and make it known that you are there for them
  • If you are worried about their mental health, talk to them and see what they need

It is important to note that depression and depressive symptoms – though highly prevalent in older populations  — are in no way an inevitable part of aging.  Indeed, 80% of cases of depression in elderly patients are treatable.*

Unfortunately, we know that depression is widely under treated or even untreated in senior citizens.*  As with any age group, the first step to taking good care of your mind is being aware of when or if you need help, and not being afraid to reach out.