The Depressed Cake Shop as a concept began in the UK, but was brought to Malaysia in 2014 by Sabrinah Morad, who goes state by state every year to raise awareness about depression in a country that stigmatises it.
As someone who had her life affected by family suffering from depression, this mother of three found it quite natural to gravitate towards running an annual depression-awareness charity—with a little twist.
Marrying dessert and depression in the yummiest way possible, the annual Dessert Cake Shop events asks Malaysian bakers from different cities to donate baked goods for the cause, and all proceeds go to a mental health charity.
The kicker? The cakes are supposed to be grey or depressing/dark on the outside, but a bite will reveal a colourfully bright creation. Bakers are welcome to be as creative with this as they like too, which makes for a pop-up store that titillates both the eyes and the tongue, while sending a deep message.
“I first heard about the initiative from my sister Zainah who lives in Cardiff, Wales, who was involved there and herself a sufferer of depression,” said Sabrinah. “I thought the idea of using grey cakes to challenge people’s perception of mental health—in particular depression—and a way to destigmatise the illness was a clever one.”
Sabrinah also grew up with a stepfather who suffered from depression, and all of this combined into the worst kind of melting pot with living in our Malaysian society where mental illness “is viewed with prejudice and not taken seriously enough”.
After all, depression can be a deadly problem.
“Culturally we live in a fairly superstitious society where mental illness can be misdiagnosed as someone being charmed or possessed or even lacking in religious faith.”
“There is a real need for our society to destigmatise the illness, and the only way I feel is to talk openly about it in the hope of creating awareness about the illness, and to make society see it as an illness that can be treated.”
Sabrinah was a lawyer who left the legal world to raise her three children, but now that they’ve grown up, she turns her attention to this cause instead. She recruits friends from around the states, as well as location providers, and bakers to make this event possible.
And regardless of whether they’re professional bakers to mom and pop stores, or even grandmas and fathers, all are welcome to contribute their delicacies to the cause. No matter their background, bakers are asked to emulate what it feels like to have depression into their cakes—and for those who haven’t to empathise and imagine what the experience might be like.
“It was heartwarming for us at all our 3 Depressed Cake Shops to see such creativity and expression given to these grey cakes,” said Sabrinah.
The event has been running for 3 consecutive years now—having launched in KL in 2014, Ipoh in 2015, and Penang last year. All of the proceeds have gone to the Malaysian Mental Health Association, Befrienders in Ipoh and Penang, and the D’Home Mental Association in Penang.
The events are all run between Sabrinah and her closest friends, and locations for these bake sales are kindly given out by the owners of the space.
“All the other expenses such as decorations, flyers are made by the team or at our own expense and of course our time in getting the whole thing organised, arranging for media etc.”
“But true charity work means just that, we wanted to make sure all proceeds went to the charities we selected. We kept cost down to a minimum or bore the cost ourselves.”
Does it bother her that 4 years later, depression is still an issue in Malaysia?
To Sabrinah, she thinks that it is so much better, perhaps due to her optimistic nature.
“Through my work during these charity projects I have met so many amazing people, brave people striving to make a difference in their own way, from student counsellors at colleges and university to lecturers, film producers and people from MMHA and Befrienders.”
“However, I must say though that having well-known personalities in UK and US supporting mental health issues does help. But there is a huge need for it here and I wish for more local support from hospital and governmental departments. There is also a great need for trained counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists and just carers too here.”
In fact, other projects came out of this venture too.
Last year, Sabrinah and her friends decided to organise a street party with the theme “the mask you wear, the mask you hide behind” as a way to create awareness and destigmatise depression to raise funds for MMHA.
The money raised from that was used to start a fund to relieve main caregivers looking after a depressed family member. This is so that they could spend a few hours a day to have time for themselves.
“But it was so difficult finding trained carers to do the job. Yet when we spoke to hospitals they felt there is a real need for this as it isnt just those with depression that is affected by the illness but family members too.”
But other than that, a children’s book was born, telling the story of depression through the eyes of a child.
Named the Grey Bear Days, the book came about from Sabrinah’s experience with the KL Depressed Cake Shop. She heard all of the stories behind the baked goods presented in their first venue, and this gave her an idea.
The book tells the story of a boy whose life with his mother is disrupted by the Grey Bear.
“Many might think the book is too dark for a child but it’s much more than just a book about depression—it’s about confronting your fears, acceptance, courage and love. There is a need to talk about the Grey Bear because childhood depression is on the rise and so are the number of teenagers and university kids with depression.”
“I believe no topic is too difficult for children, it is how you introduce them to it. If people are willing to tell their stories without fear then we can talk about mental illness without prejudice and shame.”
Sabrinah has taken the battle against depression in Malaysia as a personal one, and we are glad that she is using her experience with depression to empower others.
We’re glad to know she’s doing as much as she can right here, through the channels she has available here. In fact, the next venture might not be a Depressed Cake Shop either.
“I do try to organise one charity event for the cause each year. I’m thinking of a similar grey-themed concept but with a difference. It is also to keep public interest instead of doing the same thing every year but always to raise awareness and destigmatise depression and mental health issues.”