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Why These Depressed Cookies Are Good for Mental Health

frowny face cookie
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

While it might be unnerving to see a cookie cry, these cookie are frowning for a good cause. They’re part of The Depressed Cake Shop, a pop-up bake shop that donates all of its proceeds to mental health efforts. 

U.K.-based creative director Emma Thomas cooked up the original concept in August of 2013. Her vision was a bake-sale style fundraiser that sold exclusively gray cakes, cookies and goodies, and brought awareness and funds to mental health causes.

It’s about challenging stigmas and labels,” Thomas says on the Depressed Cake Shop’s website. “When someone says ‘cupcake,’ you think pink icing and sprinkles. When someone says ‘mental health,’ an equally unimaginative stereotype will pop into most minds. By having gray cakes, we’re challenging the expected and getting people to challenge the labels they put on those who suffer with a mental illness.”

Originally conceived as a one time stint, the project soon took a life of its own after some passionate volunteers decided to bring it to America, Valerie Van Galder, one of the shop’s self-proclaimed “ringleaders,” told The Mighty.

“There’s something about it,” she said. “We kind of couldn’t stop.”

donuts with black frosting
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

Van Galder, a successful film studio executive in Hollywood, is now one of the “co-conspirators” who’ve continued the shop’s legacy. Her life changed drastically when her father, who had bipolar disorder, had a psychotic break after her mom died of cancer. Her colleagues were understanding when her mom was sick, but her father’s illness was a different story. Without support and feeling unable to open up about her situation, she quit a high-level position to take care of her dad.

It was during this time she discovered The Depressed Cake Shop.

cookies with frowny faces
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

She immediately contacted the shop, and although she didn’t make it to London, found someone in Los Angeles who was interested in organizing with her. She was in business.

“I wanted to channel my sadness into purpose. I want to do something about it,” she said. “I took something really scary that actually cost me my career and turned it around until something positive.”

Now, Depressed Cake Shops have popped up everywhere from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston to Australia and India, and have raised more than $60,000 for various mental health causes. The shop’s gray goodies were sold at a special screening of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and at a performance of “This is My Brave” in Boston. 

Each location supports a different, usually local mental health charity or organization. Many of the cakes were designed and donated by bakers who have personal experience or a connection with depression or other mental health issues, and baked goods are often unique. But mostly, the project has created a community of bakers and organizers who are passionate about finding creative ways to bring awareness to mental health issues.

“I’ve met other people like me,” Van Galder said. “I feel like I’m in an army.”

gray macaroons with rainclouds
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop
Van Galder and The Depressed Cake Shop will be in Orange County, California this Saturday, August 15. All proceeds will go to the Mental Health Association of Orange County. For more information, visit their Facebook page.