Pedestrians and motorists in the Village of Southampton will have noticed the many bright-yellow HOPE balloons festooning more than 50 local shops along Main Street and Jobs Lane since last week. These mark the return of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation’s (HDRF) annual Week of Hope — a village-wide effort bringing attention to, and advancing the conversation about, mental health and depression, which will culminate in the annual Race of Hope 5K to Defeat Depression on Sunday, August 7.
Philanthropist and HDRF founder Audrey Gruss and Executive Director Louisa Benton kicked off the Week of Hope campaign by placing the first HOPE balloon in front of the Akris boutique with store manager Katie Walsh last Wednesday, July 27, and dozens of other businesses followed suit in solidarity behind this important cause.
Gruss and Benton received enthusiastic help from a group of Southampton High School students, including members of the track team and their captain Evan Simioni, along with their legendary track coach Eddie Arnold (pictured at top of page), all of whom assisted shops with setting up the HOPE balloons.
“The balloons are both uplifting and serious, because they get people talking about a major public health issue across the globe,” Gruss said at the launch. “Our Southampton community is sparking life-saving conversations about depression that bring the illness out of the shadows.”
Gruss founded HDRF in April 2006 in memory of her mother, Hope, who suffered from clinical depression. She pointed out that studies show two in five American adults report symptoms of anxiety and depression; and more than 40% of teenagers say they struggle with constant sadness or hopelessness.
These alarming trends existed before the pandemic, but are only worse now, she added.
A small part of everything HDRF does, the Week of Hope took shape in 2018 following the suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and that of local Sag Harbor resident and publicist Jeanine Pepler. It was launched to remind the community that the suicide rate was rising in the United States (at that time), and that depression is a national health epidemic.
During the pandemic, reports of depression and anxiety rose among Americans, though the suicide rate was 3% lower from 2019 to 2020, despite predictions to the contrary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention still lists suicide as the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., and it counted 45,979 deaths by suicide in the year 2020 alone (with 1.2 million attempts) — and, at an average of 130 suicides per day, that number is far too many by anyone’s estimation.
This year marks a return for the Week of Hope and its 5K race, which had been on hiatus since the pandemic began in 2020.
Race of Hope Details
Following the Week of Hope awareness initiative — from July 27 to this Saturday, August 6 — the Race of Hope 5K to Defeat Depression takes runners on the popular 5K route around Lake Agawam starting at 8:30 a.m. this Sunday, August 7. Celebrity Grand Marshal Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle, among other books, will join her (non-celebrity) Co-Grand Marshals, Gruss and HDRF Board member and East Hampton resident Arthur Dunnam, as they lead participants on the run.
The race attracts more than 500 participants from the tri-state Area and beyond who run to raise mental health awareness and fund depression research. All proceeds from the race will fund groundbreaking research into the root causes of depression in the brain and new and better treatments.
Together, the Week of Hope and the Race of Hope have helped raise over $1 million for advanced depression research, thanks to support from philanthropic residents, such as Janna Bullock, Dunnam and Roy Cohen, Alan Glatt, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Mai Hallingby Harrison, Kim Heirston, Tania Higgins, Leonard and Judy Lauder, Sharon and John Loeb Jr., Anne and Jacques Nordeman, Kathy Prounis, Hilary Geary Ross, Nancy Silverman, Lis Waterman, John Paulson, and Ide and David Dangoor.
Participating businesses include Aboff’s Paint, Aerin, Akris, Aloof Icon, Arthur Kalaher Fine Art, AT&T, Bean 2 Tween, Breezin’ Up, Catena’s Food Market, the Chamber of Commerce, Cheese Shoppe, Corwin Jewelers, Douglas Elliman, Egg New York, Ever After, Fowler’s Garden Center, Frances Valentine, Geary Gubbins Sports, Golden Pear, Herrick Hardware, Hidden Gem, Hildreth’s, J. McLaughlin, Jennifer Miller, Jobs Lane Ristorante, John Dillon Salon, Johnny Was, Laviano, Main Street Optics, Mattress Firm, Michael Kors, Michelle Farmer, Ovando, Paul Stuart, Peter Millar, Poupette St. Barth, Roberta Roller Rabbit, Rumrunner Home, Saunders, Shari’s Place, Southampton Publick House, Southrifty Drug, Stevenson’s Toys, Sunrise to Sunset Surf & Sport, Tenet, Tennis East, Therapy, The Westside, Town Hall, Veronica Beard, WM Rugs, and Zadeh.