Depression is a daily struggle for millions of people, and stigma around the illness only adds to the burden. Emma Thomas' Depressed Cake Shop campaign is helping make conversations around the taboo topic a piece of cake.
"The concept is: make gray cakes, sell gray cakes and create a platform for discussion and media coverage," said Thomas. "And I think that's what we've done."
The London-based PR specialist and creative director became increasingly aware that people in the creative community around her frequently suffer from depression, but don't always have the freedom to discuss this with people in their professional or personal lives.
"If you go to the doctor and you're depressed the doctor will sign you off with stress so depression isn't on your record," Thomas said. "If you return to work after having the flu, people don't judge you forever. But if you have depression and you return to work after being down, you're judged forever."
Frustrated with the taboo, and the further toll it was taking on people she cared about, Thomas began cooking up a scheme. Her agency, Cakehead Loves, runs a yearly, cake-centric initiative to benefit specific causes. In 2011, the sweet treats were sushi-shaped, with sales going to benefit tsunami victims. In 2012, after the death of Steve Jobs, tech-themed cakes raised money for pancreatic cancer charities.
In early August, Thomas and the Eat Your Heart Out baking collaborative launched a pop-up Depressed Cake Shop in London's Brick Lane - selling only gray baked goods to visually represent mental illness - with proceeds going to support mental health services. Now at least 50 offshoots are springing up across the U.K., Malaysia, Argentina, Pakistan and the United States.
Thomas credits the appeal of the movement to its simple, fun approach to a sticky subject. "There are always heavy leaflets and websites and there isn't an easy way for people to offer their support or create discussion," she said.
With the Depressed Cake Shop, "People can engage on a light level. It doesn't have to be heavy, and they don't have to go jogging. It enables people to support charity by just buying cake."
With so many volunteer-driven pop-up shops around the globe, Thomas and her team can't personally oversee each location, but instead offer creative guidance. "We'll do the PR and create awareness," she said. "We'll get everything ready for you. It gives confidence in the concept."
Participants must agree to abide by two rules: sell only gray baked goods ("Otherwise it's not a news story!"), and give the proceeds to a mental health charity.
And conversation about the cause isn't just happening over sad-faced cookies and cloud-printed macarons. Thomas said that the Facebook group for volunteers has fostered a safe environment for sufferers of depression, and their loved ones, to talk about a painful subject.
"Loads have people said that it makes it accessible," said Thomas. "Where people wouldn't go to a lecture on depression, the group is nice because it's a really relaxed environment that everyone feels comfortable in."
Sabrinah Morad is one of those volunteers, organizing a two-day pop-up shop in Malaysia and finding kindred spirits in the online community. Morad was brought into the Depressed Cake Shop fold by her sister, Zainah, who owns a Malaysian style cafe in Cardiff, Wales and participated in the project there.
"My stepfather has depression and as long as I can remember, his illness was spoken in hushed tones," said Morad. "We never truly understood it as we were growing up and almost felt as if we were to blame in a way because he was sad all the time."
She and her sister were never allowed to talk about what was going on at home, and found that people in her culture associated her father's symptoms with the occult, black magic or a hex.
"I remember just a few years ago when some of my stepfather's relatives from the village came to my mother's house with a Bomoh (medicine man) to bless the house and chase the 'demons' from him," Morad said.
Morad firmly believes that being able to speak about depression in a casual way would help the public understand that it's not just something that can easily be shaken off, and that they should be unashamed.
"We lack support groups here, there are very few trained counselors here," she said. "Hopefully with awareness comes support and better medical care for this illness."
Jane Reyes helped organize the pop-up effort in San Francisco. Together with QueerLife Space, her group raised $1000 in one day to support mental health services - a cause that hits very close to home. The trained jeweler gradually lost muscle function in her extremities due to a degenerative disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, but found she still had enough mobility to bake and decorate cakes.
"I had this thing that was forgiving and understanding of my limitations, permanent or temporary and I was good at it so it provided me with much pride and sense of accomplishment," Reyes wrote in an e-mail. "To someone disabled with mental or physical disease these things are rare and precious."
The solidarity within the Depressed Cake Shop volunteer community has proven essential to Reyes in her battle with the depression brought on by her painful disability.
"Making these connections through cake that are saving my life," she wrote. "When I heard of Emma's project, it struck me like lightning and I knew I must be a part of it."
Thomas is well aware of the deep impact her initiative has made, and acknowledges that the biggest struggle right now is to encourage participants to keep it simple.
"Everyone is wanting to complicate it," she said. "'Let's set up support groups. Let's do this...' That's not what we're about. It's make gray cakes, sell gray cakes - that's it."
Thomas is seeking for someone to look after the Depressed Cake Shop's legacy and make sure it carries on into the future.
"We're having people baking and telling us their stories, and people baking because of how it's affected their friends. It's amazing and moving," she said. "And it was only ever meant to be one shop!"
The next 50 - and no doubt countless more - are just the cherry on top of a truly sweet idea.
Depressed Cake Shops in the United States will be popping up in Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta and more cities to come. Want to get involved? There's more information at depressedcakeshop.com.
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I'd just like to thank Kat for writing this article and point out the obvious. ALL comments on this post show The Depressed Cake shop in a good light as it is about raising awareness. So if you are aware of the project (regardless of your views) think of the many others who also are, and can use it as a positive platform for discussion. I know personally how many people we have already helped by allowing them to just take part in the project – and even if it we just make single person feel better than for me it's worth it.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU a million times over for this article...the spirit has definitely moved me on this topic for more than one reason and the fact that I bake for a living, pffpt...forget about it....DONE.
Currently enlisting local pastry chefs and bakers (pro and non) to do a Depressed Bake Shop in Houston...cannot wait. I hope to hear from Emma soon....
THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN....amazing...
When I was 10 I liked to make cakes ... and one time I tried a weird looking dark grey frosting to see what kind of response I'd get.
My family hated it – wouldn't even eat it. I was stunned. The only thing different than normal was the color. I recall my father saying "it has to look good to taste good". An early lesson in the importance of packaging... and how people's eyes can blind them.
HAve you lost your mind or are you finding your soul? Often "dark night of the soul" is the doorway to finding yourself.
The last few years of " Direct to consumer advertising" by pharmaceutical companies has done more to, not just" Raise
Awareness" about Depression , Bipolar Disorder etc..but give people specific information about illnesses. It drives
Physicians Mad when a patient asks for, Crestor,Virapimil etc. But they have got the samples for patients to try, given to
them by " Phar Reps" making there rounds with samples. Remember the first time you saw an ad for Wellbutrin? With the
Warning, " do not take if you are currently take Zibam ( sp? ) to stop smoking.. Bupropion is the same drug. They treat
alter brain chemistry in the same way, but call it an Antidepressant? I am not Depressed! I don't know if it is still marketed
what ever... Direct to Consumer Marketing, right or wrong, in this case, has been a Godsend. I was just reading " Time"
or " Ladies Home Journal" & I have learned more a out Causes Signs & Symptoms, Treatment....you learned more in
in 5 mins, than you have in a lifetime. I am hard pressed to think of an instance where something...done for the wrong reason has has such a positive impact. I think Any Effort, A bit of Grey Cake, doesn't sound very tasty, " why am I eating
Grey Cake? Just because it doesn't go as far as YOU think it should? They are a Bakery, for heaven sakes. Any Effort
should be applauded. Maybe next year they will include some informational napkins or something. A little bit of something
( grey cake ) is better than a Whole Lot of Nothing.
It's not about eating the cakes. It's about baking. I run a Malaysian cafe in Cardiff and had a major breakdown last year after suffering from depression. My father has been severely depressed for that's 7 years and growing up in Malaysia where the condition is non-existent in society was hard. After my breakdown just before we opened our shop I could not go out and was in bad shape. The only thing I could still continue to do was bake and cook for my shop. I didn't After a couple of months I was able to go to work for a couple of hours a day and now I am coping. I still have low days. I'm on medication and I go for therapy. BUT like many people, I find that baking helps mitigate my low days. it is of course not a cure but it is an option for some. I don't eat all my cakes and I don't think the others do, Why I believe Miss Cakehead started this was that she recognised that it was a form of therapy. Depression is a taboo in UK still and more so in the Far East so if we could raise awareness by selling grey cakes... Why not! Raising awareness helps. Perhaps if people in Malaysia were more aware, things would have been easier for my family. I am lucky that I now live in the UK and its ok to have depression. We bake-we sell-we donate.
Thank you so much for taking part in this. I think it will help more people than you will ever know.
I've also suffered from severe depression and don't appreciate this sentiment. If you want to help someone, why not directly help them. Ask them out for coffee, bake them a casserole, be their exercise buddy, call and check on them regularly. How many people, even relatives, actually care enough to do this? "I bought a grey cupcake," makes me feel about as supported as "I gave money to NAMI." If someone brought me one of these treats to be "supportive," I would be offended, especially if it said, "Hello, my name is r****d." You can do so much more to end stigma simply by being there for someone. A lot of people wouldn't even spend an hour a week helping a friend get through a depressive episode. They'd avoid them like the plague until the pills kicked in. I "get" the artistic intention, I just don't see it as helpful.
Quyll – thank you for saying that, I felt the same way as I read the story. I have noticed lately that people don't want to hear about your 'troubles'. I have had "friends" say I was being too negative and stopped talking to me. I think anyone going through a rough time, NEEDS to talk to someone. But people just turn their backs – why is this? I read a post on Facebook from a contact that was complaining that she ran into an 'old friend' and "all she did was complain about her life and how horrible everything was, blah blah blah it was painful- I couldn't get away fast enough!". I quickly deleted this person thinking, "that's not the kind of "friend" I would want talking behind my back. :( Good post- thanks for sharing!
Thanks heather. I also know plenty of people like that. Why listen to someone and have compassion for their negativity or upsetting circumstances? That's no fun. But doing simple things like listening are so important. Be well.
We ARE helping people – many people have found incredible support from just taking part in the project
I love the cupcakes with the little flash of colorful icing inside in #16. It looks like hope; that little unexpected glimmer of beauty that makes you smile despite yourself. :)
I have tons of questions about this years Eagles, too.
They're going to be bad...
I like those too :) A grey cake would probably make it worse for me :/
Depression is sort of an illness and sort of isn't. It's effectively an addiction to being depressed. That's why therapy sometimes works and why we shouldn't treat it as just an illness that needs a pill.
The reason I'm saying this is that A) its not just an illness that needs another pill and B) the people who need to snap out of it are really the folks around the depressed person..... you need to make the person happier over a period of time. It all has to do with the chemical receptors in someone's brain (like any other emotion).
Pardon my disagreement but your comment is contradictory. Depression is a multifaceted condition. Anyone who has been diagnosed with major depression can tell you it is not voluntary nor an addiction. By including the neurotransmitters, you are agreeing that part of treatment can be medical. It is generally agreed that a combination of talk and medical therapy is most effective. True depression is a severe and life-threatening condition, that few are willing to talk about openly.
Also, happiness is not the result of externals, as a rule, if one feels dead inside, no amount of cheerful friends will make them happy.
Ron, you have clearly never been depressed beyond a bad day. People with opinions like yours are extremely detremental to any kind of help for all mental illness.
All mental illness is valid, real, and different for each patient.
Your assertion that it's made up and that depressed people can snap out of it or become happy again over time is junk. Every day I wish that it worked that way because I wake up feeling rotten for no good reason and I go to sleep feeilng rotten for no good reason. I pick fights with the people who care about me just because I feel terrible and I can't make it go away. I have panic attacks because I'm afraid that the people I talk with just want me to feel better & I can't just make it go away.
many of the same things can be said of heart disease
Seems a tad Ironic... there is a link between sugar and depression:
When I had depression in college, I noticed I would feel a little better after a healthy lunch or going for a little walk in the sunshine, but sugar would actually make me feel mopey.
The ironic thing is that sugar can be a major contributor to depression. They would make their point better if their cakes were sugar-free. And while they're at it...gray?? How about some nice cheery pinks or sky blues?
Wow! We had the same reaction to this story. The bitter truth of sugar.
I agree Dorci
Simple minded people cannot distinguish between sometimes being depressed and actually suffering from Depression. Anyone who has lived with someone they loved who has suffred from depression knows that this is a real condition and they cannot just "snap out of it". Finding the proper medication is key.
You may want to read "Saved by Cake" by Marian Keyes (best known for her "chick-lit" books.) She talks about her emotional struggles and how she got through them through baking. The book has recipes too but so far the ones I've tried are so-so.
I don't need to be depressed to eat cake
My wife can attest to this
What flavor is gray frosting? If I find out the truth will it depress me?
Grey frosting can be any flavour you wish. The colour is completely unrelated to the taste. What is your wish?
Thank you for taking on the cause of Depression. I am living with depression and have for over 10 years. I am no longer ashamed by it, a recent discovery. Things like this allow the dialogue to begin about depression. Depression affects everyone differently, but is still misunderstood and can be debilitating. If you do not understand depression, please do some research or talk to a person living with it.
I liked your comment and wanted to reply. I congratulate you on dealing with your depression gracefully to the point where you can talk about it without any shame. It isn't a shameful disease. It needs to be understood and discussed. I too have depression and have for about 20 years. I have finally come to the point where I have accepted that I will most likely live with this disease forever and will always have to deal with the symptoms in one way or another. It helps me to know there are other people out there fighting the same battle. Good luck with yours!!!!
Thank you. Good luck with yours as well :)
Thank you for raising the awareness about mental health, its a noble effort, hopefully it makes people more open, aware and sympathetic about those suffering from depression. It is not their doing, its not something self imposed or brought on, its a disease just like any other body health condition.
best wet to battle depression is to NOT EAT LIKE A DISGUSTING PIG
The best way to battle depression is to go to a medical professional for help. It is a brain disorder and is not caused by eating cupcakes and fries. It is ignorant attitudes like this that prevent people from seeking the help they need.
I'll bet you are as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside.
i have depression..and im not a disgusting pig. I really hope you never have to experience the pain that comes with the illness. waking up in the morning to come up with a reason to live, not taking pleasure in anything in your life, hearing people say to you that I just need to be happy. Its not ABOUT being happy. It goes deeper than that. And before you start spouting off on something you likely know nothing about just shows how ignorant you really are. my name is Chris and I have depression...IM NOT ASHAMED ANYMORE!
It was not a noble effort. She went for cheap marketing and she's got it. Get real.
Marketing of what, are you thinking? This isn't for a business, it's for a cause - and many of the people involved aren't professional bakers. Some people *do* actually act out of the goodness of their hearts and for the love of people in their lives, or even to combat their own issues. I'm a terribly cynical person (journalist - comes with the territory), and I fail to see the harm.
"This isn't for a business, it's for a cause"
How do you know? This is for her resume, she is a PR specialist and a creative director.
As a person who has suffered from depression for more than 25 years, I disagree with you. She has brought attention to the topic of depression which was the point of this publicity stunt. Those of us who have depression are discussing it openly and without shame. That's a plus, don't you think?
Since your handle is Biased, I don't think you're the best person to judge this or any topic. Of course, you could be a troll or you could be trolling here for all I know. Some lackwits do that for what they call amusement. I don't get that.
She's no Mother Theresa. She's bringing attention to depression and to people who have the disease of depression. If it's a bad thing in your mind, so be it. The rest of us can come out of the depression closet. You have fun playing inside the darkness.
I did the shop in SF with no agenda other that to raise money for a local mental health outreach organization. And that's exactly what we did. Everyone whose actually participating in these shops is doing it out of a deep sense of connection because of the topic and in an attempt to raise money and awareness for a local organization. Out of our own pockets and squeezing it into our schedules to make sure it gets done because we all know how frustrating it is to have depression be stigmatized and wouldn't it be great to take part in something that would help. We made grey cakes to get people's attention and raise awareness. We sold grey cakes to raise money for local organizations. Eating a cupcake won't cure depression. Making a cupcake has been therapeutic for me. Selling grey cupcakes raised money for a group of caring people who volunteer to help people with depression...that's how this helps. Emma had a clear, brilliant idea and she was generous enough to give the idea away to anyone who connected with it and allow them to be part of something special and personal. If this amazing idea goes on her resume and helps her in anyway...fabulous!!!!! She deserves it! This isn't her first rodeo. She's created many benevolent endeavors and is brave enough to not quit for anyone!!
As someone who has had depression, I think a lot of this is reinforcing false perception of what depression is. A fortune cookie that says "snap out of it?" Telling someone with depression to "snap out of it" is offensive and betrays an ignorance about depression. Likewise the crazy notion that someone who is depressed and probably has some measure of anhedonia would somehow have his spirits lifted with a slice of cake. I think she means to create a bakery devoted to sadness and general moodiness, not true depression. This is a word that should not be thrown around so casually.
I think you may have missed the point. The fortune cookie was intended to portray a common thing told to depressed people in a slightly sarcastic and humorous light. Anything that comes out of a fortune cookie is just a useless one-sentence bit of nothingness, which is exactly what "snap out of it" is to a depressed person.
Her intentions seem noble enough, but I think it is a trivializing approach rather than one that relaxes the stigma.
I don't know that her goal is necessarily to "relax the stigma" around depression. Rather, her goal appears to be to sell sweet treats to people (not necessarily depressed people) and donate the proceeds to mental health research. When she made tech-shaped treats and sold them to raise money for pancreatic cancer (a la Steve Jobs), she wasn't trying to "relax the stigma" surrounding cancer. She wasn't trying to make accurate portrayals of technology, either. She was just trying to sell treats to raise money for a cause. But I guess since no good deed can go unpunished in this world, it should be expected that people would try to find something wrong or lacking with what she did. Good on ya.
Her intention is really simple. Get free marketing and it worked wonderfully. Yes, I know there is a 0.00001% chance that she is our next Mother Teresa but it's simpler to live in this world when you are a realist.
I believe you are missing the point. This is a FUNDRAISER for depression treatment services. The "catch" is that all the products sold during the fundraiser are GRAY and the the products are sweet foodstuffs.
If you read the story, you will see that she created THEMED food stuff products in 2011 and 2012 for OTHER CAUSES. She is NOT trying to create a permanent bakery devoted to sadness etc. Nor is she telling people to "snap out of it." She is ONLY trying to raise money for health care services to treat the underlying disease. As a side, because of the publicity, she also happens to be raising AWARENESS.
You appear to be personally offended by her attempt to help BECAUSE you suffer from depression. As a person suffering with depression, I am grateful for ANY attempt by people to try and reduce the stigma attached to depression (and other brain disorders). People do not generally discriminate against people because their hearts don't work as well as other peoples or because their legs don't work as well, but for some unholy reason, people DO discriminate against people whose BRAINS work differently.
First and foremost, it would help if medicine stopped calling it MENTAL health disorder and started calling it BRAIN disorder. It is no different than epilepsy or Alzheimers or autism. It comes from a damaged or diseased brain, NOT from character flaws.
Well said. I come from a family with multi-generational depression issues including a suicide, multiple ECT and hospitalization in its history. Most likely the issue is bipolar disorder, which makes it no less devastating. Thinking of suicide on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis is no one's idea of fun.
Some of these cakes are really cool, but the "Psycho" cake roll is a bit odd. I'm not really sure why the baker thought that was a good message.
I think its about the stigma that comes with depression. So, it would be the baker's desire to change that.
That is the stigma people with depression have to put up with. I suffer from depression and have been called psycho many times.
A sensible suggestion, but I'd still prefer large piece of cake. Maybe with a nice cuppa. That cheers me up every time.
Abilify is one of the most OVER PRESCRIBED medicines on the planet. And it has a number of troubling DEADLY side effects – like CAUSING diabetes.
How about – try learning COPING skills though one on one therapy. Abilify can kill you, talking doesn't
The cake is a lie.
My Companion Cube will never leave me, it doesn't have legs.
SIGN ME UP!
Given what a profound effect coloring has on food, it's a shame there aren't more safe, natural and cheap colorings available. Most commercial chicken is dyed with an arsenic compound! And salmon is routinely died pink. Faux shrimp is dyed red on the outside.
But there are many other interesting alternatives. I could imagine dying bread slightly deep yellow.
Anyhow, answering Mikey, getting a grey color is relatively easy, because any number of colors muddled together will turn an unattractive neutral color. Try lots of blue, some red, some yellow. And of course, if you already have black food coloring, all that's necessary is to dilute it.
Chicken is not dyed with arsenic. Chickens are fed arsenic in their feed. There is no need to dye chicken. Purdue is yellow due to a soft scald in addition to large amounts of flower petals in their feed. The purpose of feeding chickens arsenic is to increase growth rate and product yield. It has nothing to do with color.
How does one create gray cake batter and frosting?
Chain craft shops like Jo-Anne's and Michael's sell cake decorating supplies. There is a black food coloring paste that comes in a tube. Used sparingly, you get the degree of darkness you want.
I feel like when it comes to health issues, all options for treatment should be on the table. Everyones brains and bodys are unique and for all we know we may only get one life to live and it could be cut short by any number of things at any time.....SO that is why I believe all drugs should be legal and freely available to everyone. I have terrible TMJ pain and my drs won't prescribe me any pain meds stronger then Tylenol so im left in pain because addicts abuse these drugs....its messed up...those addicts would've found a way to kill themselves with something reguardless of the availability of certain drugs.....it just sucks that I have to suffer because marijuana isn't legal in NYS even for medical reasons.....and nobody wants to give pain meds to a 28 year old......I've been suffering in pain for years, its become hopeless.....
I'm not sure if you're going to see this comment but I was wondering if you have tried taking magnesium supplements – I've heard some people with TMJ find they help because of the relaxing effect. Also, yoga and meditation may be worth trying. I used to have a family doctor who practiced Western medicine but also sometimes recommended alternative therapies in place of medication and they seemed to work remarkably well.
Best of luck in trying to find a solution.
i'm so sorry to hear what you wrote. chronic pain is a difficult thing for a person to endure and i agree with you that all treatment options should be on the table. i hope you find something that will help you and that NYS moves in the right direction on medical marijuana...
I typically never respond to threads but felt compelled to based on your comment. A good friend of mine has had TMJ for the past year and NOTHING seemed to work. The poor guy was miserable and could hardly eat anything and unfortunately it had become a way of life that he just helplessly dealt with. Randomly, I've been hugely into drinking green juices and smoothies and convinced his wife (one of my best friends) to try it because it has DRASTICALLY improved my own health (generally feel better, more energy, skin cleared up, bloated tummy went down) and she's always looking for ways to get healthy. Well she tried it and because they're inseparable, he tried it too. They did it consistently for about a week (one large serving of a green smoothie per day – mostly using anti-inflammatory recipes) and the TMJ symptoms literally disappeared. He ate his first carrot in a year. Now it's part of their morning rituals. I know it sounds kind of crazy but it's worth a try!
See a neurologist and your dentist. It's possible you suffer from bruxism and need a night guard to stop grinding your teeth. Your dentist will be able to diagnose this and your neurologist will be able to prescribe the pain meds you require.
I, too, went through the same pain hell for 30 years. No doctor (and I had many) ever suggested that a neurologist could help me. I found one by accident when I was in hospital for something else. He diagnosed trigeminal neuralgia along with the TMJ I knew I had and prescribed the pain meds I required. I'm better now and don't need the pain medications as often, but I do have them here if needed.
I don't get the traditional response to depression. Depressed people already feel terrible, often about themselves. How is making them feel worse about it going to improve their odds?
At what point in the article do you get that they're feeling worse?
AleeD, Jimbo's point was that people shouldn't make depressed people feel worse about being depressed (which is the presumed "traditional response to depression"). Jimbo's statement is in line with the article, which mentions the following: "If you go to the doctor and you're depressed the doctor will sign you off with stress so depression isn't on your record," Thomas said. "If you return to work after having the flu, people don't judge you forever. But if you have depression and you return to work after being down, you're judged forever." Get it?
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