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“Best Strategies for well-being.” With Beau Henderson & Audrey Gruss

Strategies for well-being and the four pillars of maintaining good mental health and well-being are (1) proper nutrition, (2) regular exercise, (3) proper sleep (at least 7 or 8 hours or more depending on each individual and (4) meditation. As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I […]

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Strategies for well-being and the four pillars of maintaining good mental health and well-being are (1) proper nutrition, (2) regular exercise, (3) proper sleep (at least 7 or 8 hours or more depending on each individual and (4) meditation.

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Audrey Gruss, Founder and Chairman of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), which she established in 2006 in memory of her late mother Hope, who battled clinical depression for decades. HDRF’s mission is to fund pioneering international scientific research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and its related mood and other emotional disorders, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure. HDRF distinguishes itself as the only significantly-funded research program, public or private, based on “affective neuroscience”, which integrates the fields of neuroscience (the biology of the brain) and affect (the mind and emotions). Audrey Gruss was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, from the University of Haifa, for her courage and perseverance in creating a research foundation to support this visionary mission. Additionally, in 2017, Audrey Gruss created the Hope Fragrance Collection, a line of fragrances that donate 100% of net profits directly to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

​​​Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Mypersonal story is not a very typical one, and goes back to the fact that my parents were survivors of WWII at the communist takeover of the small baltic country of Lithuania. My father was a lieutenant in the Lithuanian cavalry, and my mother was a teacher. They escaped from Lithuania after the war when the country was handed over to the USSR at the Yalta Conference. My parents were sponsored by distant relatives to come to the US and found themselves in northern New Jersey and they ultimately became naturalized citizens of the US. Their experiences in WWII, their appreciation of democracy, freedom and the value of the opportunities provided by living in the US were conveyed to me since childhood. The value of an education was especially instilled in me, and I grew up as an “A” student who went on scholarship to Jackson College at Tufts University as a pre-med student. I received my Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Biology with honors, but wanted to go to work in a science-related field rather than continue in academia. My first position was at the Revlon Research Center, and I came to New York right after college to work there. I was an executive assistant to the medical director, and was involved in all the scientific aspects of product testing. My career developed in the marketing and advertising areas, as I held executive positions at JP Stevens, the oldest textile company in the US as well as Elizabeth Arden, one of the most prestigious luxury brands in the US. I started my own international marketing consulting company, where we developed the Doral Saturnia Spa in Miami and obtained the North American Rights to Terme Di Saturnia Skin Care from Italy. Then I became President of Terme Di Saturnia and launched it nationally at Saks Fifth Avenue.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

I created the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) in 2006 in memory of my mother in order to fund the most innovative neuroscience research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and other mood disorders, including Bipolar Disorder and suicide. I founded HDRF in 2006 in memory of my mother, Hope, who struggled with depression for decades.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My mother struggled with depression for decades. She had been a very creative, outgoing woman who was a teacher, a poet and had a wonderful sense of humor. At some point in her 30’s, she had what was then called a “nervous breakdown.” We now know it to be Major Depressive Disorder. My father, sisters and I witnessed years of revised diagnoses, trials of medication and the life-sapping loss of energy that is a major symptom of depression. After her death in 2005, I vowed to do all in my power to help others struggling with this illness. I researched the status of depression and found out it was misunderstood, under-researched and under-funded. I discovered that over 18 million in the US struggled with depression every year, and that 35% of them did not respond to the existing category of antidepressants commonly used. I also found out that it is the #1 reason for disability in the world, and that at least 350 million people have depression globally. Having personally witnessed my mother’s struggle with depression, I felt that I could contribute to this field. As I got more and more involved building HDRF, I became passionate about this cause and making a difference.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I was very close to my mother and was influenced by her creativity and beautiful soul. I was bereft after her death and the loss of her unconditional love and positive reinforcement of me and my goals. I found out from my interviews with psychiatrists and neuroscientists how critical the situation in depression research was, how much stigma there was around mental health and that since 1985 when Prozac was introduced, there has been no new category of medication. Apparently all the various brands of antidepressants were variations of Prozac and its SSRI or SNRI categories. I was stunned. My husband and I had been supporting over 200 charities a year, and they were all wonderful causes, but the final trigger that made me step up and create HDRF was this realization that depression and mental health were step children in the research field. A new smartphone was coming out every few months; we were attempting to reach Mars; technology was shrinking the world, but people were still struggling with depression — the common cold of mental health.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Shane Boylan was a typical 10-year old boy living in New Jersey. His father suffered from depression and committed suicide. He decided to do a bicycle race to raise money to support depression research. He wanted to donate whatever he raised to an organization that would help make a difference in the field of depression. As he scoured the internet for an organization to partner with, he came across HDrF and contacted us. We met with Shane and his mother and suggested he tie in with our Race of Hope, which is a 5K walk or run held in Southampton, NY and Palm Beach, FL. We helped him brand his bike ride and explained that every penny raised by HDRF goes 100% to research. Shane held his first race and expected to raise a few hundred dollars. He raised over $4,000 and presented a check to us at our annual Hope Luncheon Seminar, where we honored him with the Hope Award for Depression Advocacy… and a new bike. Shane continues to have his Ride of Hope and continues to believe in the value of science helping to improve the lives of those who struggle with mental health.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

One of my greatest mentors who reinforced that the research we were doing was critical to the mental health field is Dr. Steven Roose. Dr. Roose is not only one of the leading psychiatrists in the US, he is also a psychopharmacologist, neuroscientist and a mental health researcher. Dr. Roose was one of the first founders of HDRF by joining the medical board. He is one of the most brilliant, sensitive and caring individuals I know, and has been a cheerleader in every way to the growth and success of HDrF.

According to Mental Health America’s report,over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Mental illness is still so misunderstood that many people feel it is their fault because of a weakness in them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mental illness is an illness of the mind and body. One of the major symptoms of depression is body pain as well as psychic pain. The issue is that mental illness cannot be seen the way a broken leg or an issue such as diabetes can be diagnosed with identifiable and physical symptoms. For centuries mental illness has been feared and depicted in literature in its most frightening form — the psychosis of Schizophrenia, for example. In reality, depression and its related mood disorders are the common cold of mental illness and over 350 million people struggle with depression worldwide.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Everyone at all levels of society should increase their financial support of research in mental illness. As individuals and collective society, we should familiarize ourselves with the symptoms of depression and be kind and caring of those that we suspect are struggling with depression or mental illness. Regarding government support of depression, it is one of the top five in disease prevalence, but it is way down in ranking in terms of government support for research. That reality should definitely be reversed.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Strategies for well-being and the four pillars of maintaining good mental health and well-being are (1) proper nutrition, (2) regular exercise, (3) proper sleep (at least 7 or 8 hours or more depending on each individual and (4) meditation.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I try to read every book that comes out about anyone who struggles with mental health and has found their own path to mental wellness. From a temporarily situational depression to suicide and every type of mental illness in between, I am heartened that people are revealing their stories and sharing their experiences in finding their way to mental health. Every book I read and every person that comes up to me to thank me for the work we’re doing, inspires me to be involved in mental health.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?​

Making a positive impact: gratitude and giving back are two of the most important elements in anyone’s life. Gratitude goes to the core of happiness, and there is nothing more positive than giving back to others without asking for anything in return. My associates and I at HDRF are among the most positive people I know. We go to the office every day, or currently meet on Zoom, full of the most positive feelings and ideas to create awareness of and make a difference in mental health. The brain is our future, and to have a balanced well-functioning brain and mind is the best we can do for ourselves and others so they can enjoy life to its fullest.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow us on www.hopefordepression.org and you can also see the work we are doing at www.hopefragrances.com, where 100% of net profits from the sale of Hope Fragrances goes directly to depression research at HDRF.

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