Depressed Cake Shop takes on mental health stigma, one grey cake at a time.
The stats – the average, that is – for the number of people to suffer from a mental health problem is 1 in 4. Worse, in some geographical and demographic areas, this drops to 1 in 3.
Look around you. How many people do you see? Which of them are tussling with depression, bi-polar or a personality disorder? What about your friend groups? Do you know who is struggling, who’s hiding behind a smile? It could be your sister, your colleague, the person who makes your morning coffee, it could be you.
Hiding behind a brave face is common. Who wants the world to know that you frequently fall in a deep, black hole where every positive thought or fact is swallowed whole by self-loathing, a sense of uselessness and despair? Or that at times even you don’t understand why you said or did that thing that upset everyone. And people get so uncomfortable talking about it – it still has a taboo element about it. Talking about it is tainted by fear and misunderstanding, and so it’s easier not to get involved.
“Don’t say that, it could set her off and she’ll be crying for days”
“He’ll be alright, I was just being funny – what’s he going to do? Kill himself?”
“You’re an adult, get over it!”
The thing is, people ARE depressed, they ARE suffering and their symptoms are difficult for the rest of us – the friends, families, colleagues, onlookers – to understand and deal with. The taboo is still there. The childhood gesture of circling a finger around an ear to indicate someone is coocoo, loco, crazy, is still in our minds. We’re not sure how to support the people we know need our help and understanding.
I’ve tried to be a support person for someone close to me over a long number of years, when I could, when I knew support was needed. In the beginning, I wanted to understand where the depression came from, what caused it, was there an event or a trigger that would help me “get it”? Now I know there’s far more value in just being there, talking, listening, caring. I got over the fear of saying the wrong thing in the face of a blinding despair during the black hole moments. I learned what was needed to get them through that moment, and sometimes to help plan a distraction tactic for the next time, to jump on the moment before it consumed them, and perhaps talk them out of it. I feared for that person, but I can see they can work on the parts of their lives that they can change and manage the bad parts with support and care.
That’s kind of a backstory for my involvement with Depressed Cake Shop.
As a side-hustle cake decorator, I spent a lot of time scouring books and the internet for cake inspiration. When I landed on a blog about a one-off awareness campaign to change the conversation about depression and mental health issues using grey cake, I was hooked. Discovering there was grass-roots movement in the USA and UK, I signed up to the Depressed Cake Shop (DCS) Facebook group and started planning how I could set up a pop-up in my town.
The Depressed Cake Shop premise is simple. Gather some bakers, have them make cakes and sweet treats of any kind and decorate them entirely in grey icing. Set up a pop-up shop somewhere with lots of foot traffic, and sell the cakes and donate it to a mental health help organisation in your region. That’s it. The variations in cake decorations and pop-up models are endless. This is the story of how a low-population, agricultural based region went with their model.
Gathering some ideas for grey cake decoration together, I hawked the Depressed Cake Shop concept to anyone I could find in the mental health area in my town. By my third or fourth phone call I found Louise, whose organisation worked in community care, and who loved the idea. She provided the means, the professional support, the flyers and information and I brought volunteer bakers and a load of grey buttercream! We set up inside the entrance to the local shopping centre and gave out free cake in exchange for a quick chat and an information flyer about where to find help in the area. Louise later told me it was among the most successful programs for exposure and getting information out into the community they had ever delivered. Winning!
Not long ago I did the same thing all over again, this time with pop-ups in three regional towns. We iced hundreds of cupcakes, baked huge cakes, packed biscuits and slices and sent them out with boxes of flyers and fridge magnets for support contacts. We ran out of cake and we ran out of flyers – people recognised the event from previous years and were more inclined to stop for a chat. The mental health professionals LOVED it and are planning a second Depressed Cake Shop pop-up later this year. People are talking about our grey cakes and the message they deliver.
And the icing on the cake – sorry, bad cake pun – has been the people I’ve met through making grey cakes. The network of bakers and makers across the globe, who are all on their own missions to destigmatise mental health illness with amazing events and supporters. The high profile cake businesses from cities here in Australia who are really keen to see more Depressed Cake Shops popping up and spreading the word. The local professionals working the in the health industry who can’t believe how successful the events are in getting information and awareness out there. All through a simple concept of using grey cake to change how we think and talk about mental health and depression.
Kathy Cope writes for herself here.