Birthday cakes, wedding cakes and … depressed cakes? A recent trend of pop-up shops aimed at reducing the stigma around mental illness has people looking at baked goods in a whole new light. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that depression is “the leading cause of disability worldwide,” and that approximately 6.9 percent of individuals in the United States struggle with the disorder. Grassroots campaigns, such as The Depressed Cake Shop, hope to start a dialogue regarding depression and other highly stigmatized mental health issues.
The Depressed Cake Shop was launched in the summer of 2012 by Emmy Thomas as a single pop-up shop in the United Kingdom and has since grown into an international non-profit organization. Cakes in Thomas’ original pop-up shop were entirely gray, with only a small pop of color to symbolize hope in the face of mental illness. Since bakers and grassroots organizers have taken hold of the movement in cities across the globe, the only requirement now is that all baked goods sold in The Depressed Cake Shop pop-up shops have an “element of gray” to represent depression. Participants have taken liberties with the kinds of baked goods provided, and their names. For instance, past items include “misfortune cookies” and “anxious Oreos.” These goods are donated by local bakers, with all proceeds going to local charities. The organization has already raised more than $60,000 for mental health awareness and advocacy.
This movement has drawn organizers from across the United States, with pop-up shops in Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. The organization’s website explains that these shops serve as “a unique (and delicious) platform designed to raise awareness of [mental health] challenges.” Many people who have a personal connection to mental illness have enjoyed getting involved in the unique project. Valerie Van Galder, whose father had bipolar disorder, has worked with the Depressed Cake Shop since 2013. As she explains, “It’s such a conversation starter. Cake is so strongly associated with celebration, happiness… the pairing of cake with depression stops people. Why is this cake depressed?”
The campaign can also benefit the bakers and “sugar artists” who donate to the pop-up shops, as many professionals tout the therapeutic benefits of baking. The art of baking can reduce stress and help individuals take nervous or negative energy and channel it into something productive. As Van Galder notes, “The simple act of measuring ingredients, mixing dough… it quiets your mind.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or anxiety, help is available. Call the California Mental Health Helpline today to speak with a professional about treatment services in your area.