Sad cupcakes, crying cookies and various gray-scaled confections will help bring people together, spark dialogue and raise funds for mental health resources at the June 16 Depressed Cake Shop event at Meow Wolf's David Loughridge Learning Center.
Depressed Cake Shop, an international pop-up movement, merges the comfort of baking with the catharsis of invention to help de-stigmatize an issue that impacts growing numbers of people across the world. In the US alone, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least half the population will be diagnosed with a mental health issue at some point in their lives.
For Wolves, Meow Wolf tech designer and developer, the event also exemplifies out-of-the-box thinking for a social justice issue. The architect of the upcoming Meow Wolf event, Wolves also has organized several previous Depressed Cake Shop events in both California and Santa Fe.
“It will bring people together in a way that very few events around mental illness really do,” Wolves says, “because so many of them are very serious about their discussions about mental illness instead of viewing mental illness as something many, many people experience that’s worthy of discussion.”
DCS, on the other hand, is more “free form.” The creativity brought to the baked goods creates “an invitation to a discussion,” Wolves says. “And so a lot of people do end up discussing the event and the people in their lives who have expressed depression and mental illness of various kinds, so it’s really healing to have that opportunity to break down the stigma.”
Wolves, who has struggled with bipolar depression since childhood, says, like many others, the struggle pre-dated any diagnosis. Conversations with other people, such as those rendered in DCS’ less formal setting, “really breaks down that idea you can’t discuss these issues.”
Depressed Cake Shop also is a mechanism to raise funds for mental health resources. Saturday’s event will benefit Tierra Nueva, Southwestern College’s counseling center. The center provides affordable counseling and art therapy services from counselors in training on a sliding scale basis.
“It’s not like the big mega mental health clinics,” Bob Deane, the center's clinical director, says. “We treat people as a person, not as a diagnosis or as a billing code, and we’re able to give families and individuals and couples really excellent services in a way that they couldn’t access otherwise.” In Santa Fe, the center also fills a gap for the under-served south side of the city. And Depressed Cake Shop's creative focus dovetails with Southwestern’s emphasis on art therapy. Deane says while Southwestern offers licenses in both counseling and art therapy, the majority of its students gravitate toward the latter modality.
“Art is a really powerful curative force,” he says, “and it’s a way to tap into what’s going on with someone without having to use words; they can tap into that subconscious, unconscious level through art and really do some powerful work and have insight and growth.”
As for the sweet artistic creations at Saturday's event, Wolves will be bringing cupcakes decorated by some of Meow Wolf’s artists (and labeled as such), as well as blank cupcakes that attendees can decorate.
Though not scheduled as such, the Depressed Cake Shop event follows an uptick of attention toward mental health issues following the high profile suicides by handbag designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain. That attention has included a plethora of articles about the impact of and larger issues at play with rising rates of suicide.
Deane, who teaches a suicide prevention and intervention class at the college, says events such as DCS can help reach people looking for help. “I think it’s really tough for people right now,” he says. “This is not a particularly positive time to be walking the planet for a lot of folks, and whenever I do events like this…it’s as much about awareness…we can tell people, come to us or go somewhere else, but I find it helpful for people to have a non-judgmental shame-free zone.”
Wolves, who has a background as a sexual assault and domestic violence crisis counselor, notes how important it is “to be really sensitive to discussions that might trigger people.” One important element “is making it obvious to people who are entering a space what you’re doing.” To that end, “the Depressed Cake Shop is listed as the Depressed Cake Shop.” At the same time, they say, “it’s also a very interesting approach to being non-triggering because it takes a humorous approach.”
Wolves also talks to the bakers about what they are bringing to avoid baked goods that may be triggering to others. This ultimate combination of sensitivity and whimsy results in candid talks that can help people who need to know they aren’t alone. “I feel like there’s some issues we just feel so discouraged from talking about,” Wolves says, “because we don’t want to be downers or whatever; we don’t want to get too close to something real that might affect someone. There’s a lot of surface marketing into portraying yourself a certain way or portraying your organization a certain way. I feel very lucky that Meow Wolf doesn’t do that.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 with free and confidential support and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.