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Bridgid Garcia’s “birthday piñata” cake was one of many baked goods featured in Saturday’s event. Garcia, who said she has had postpartum depression and works with kids on the autism spectrum, made the cake as a trial run for her daughter’s birthday. “Events like this make it more approachable and easier to discuss” mental health issues, she said.

Pop-up event raises money and awareness for mental illness issues

on October 17, 2016

The outside of Bridgid Garcia’s cake is covered with black, gray and white sprinkles. The inside? Five layers, each a different color of the rainbow, with M&Ms and colorful candy confetti spilling out of its center.

Garcia was one of several bakers participating in the Depressed Cake Shop’s pop-up event at Creative Growth Art Center in Uptown Oakland on Saturday afternoon. Though not strictly required, organizers prompted bakers to create desserts with an element of gray on the outside and a pop of color on the inside to symbolize how mental illnesses like depression feel. Bakers then donated their creations to be sold at the event as a way to fundraise for a mental health-related organization.

The Depressed Cake Shop (DCS) is a worldwide project of independently organized pop-up events that fundraise for mental health charities, as well as raise awareness about the prevalence of depression and other mental health issues and the challenges that come with them. According to Jane Reyes—who helped organize this event and several other pop-ups in the Bay Area—event organizers are responsible for choosing the venue and which local mental health organization receives the funds. Proceeds from Saturday’s event benefit the Creative Growth Art Center, an art studio that serves adults with developmental, mental and physical disabilities

For sale were cookies, cupcakes, donuts, cakes and other baked goods, baked by professionals and amateurs alike, some decorated simply and some more elaborately. On one table sat two plates brimming with heart-shaped sugar cookies, covered with charcoal-colored icing and silver sprinkles. Just behind these sat a three-tiered stand filled with about a dozen orange, yellow, and beige sugar cookies covered in gray icing. Literally sad, each cookie was decorated with a frowning face and arms that held a piece of candy corn, which in turn had a smiling face. On the opposite table sat an unwieldy six-layer cake, covered in thick, flower-shaped frosting in gradient shades of gray. As volunteers carefully cut it open, they revealed the cake’s rainbow-colored layers, separated by white frosting.

In addition to buying baked goods, attendees drew and wrote encouraging notes to themselves and loved ones at the drawing and letter-writing stations. On one of the tables lay a piece of paper with a drawing of a hand giving a thumbs-up next to a slice of the rainbow cake and a view of its gray exterior. Above this drawing, the artist wrote “You can do this!” On the nearby butcher-paper covered table, one note read, “Look for something POSITIVE each day, even if some days you have to look a little HARDER.”

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, an estimated 43.6 million adults experienced a mental illness in 2014—that’s almost one in five of all U.S. adults. The latest figures on depression show that an estimated 16.1 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2015, representing nearly 7 percent of all adults in the U.S.

Reyes said one of the goals of the event, other than fundraising and raising awareness about the prevalence of mental illnesses, is to get those with mental health issues to connect with one another. “It’s a really simple, sweet way to talk about something that’s not so fun to talk about. But it gets people opened up,” she said, adding that she hears many stories of people’s personal experiences with mental health issues at these events.

Lia Freitas, an event organizer who said she has an anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, agreed. “The point for me,” she said, “is basically that a lot of people deal with mental illness, and while the stigma is getting better in this day and age, there’s still a lot of trying to sweep things under the rug.”

She said that she wanted to make it okay for people to not only talk about their struggles with mental illness, but also to see it as something special. Though the word “illness,” she says, signifies something outside of the societal norm, “once you figure out how to harness that brain energy, you can do amazing things.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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