Depressed Cake Shop Aims to Make Talking About Mental Health Delicious
NAMI Central Texas, local bakers inspire important conversations
By James Scott,
3:40PM, Fri. May 6, 2022
Depression isn’t usually described as sweet, but the Central Texas branch of National Alliance on Mental Illness aims to slice through the notions of mental illness with their event Depressed Cake Shop, running May 1-14.
Helping them in those efforts are local bakers like Wes Dills, owner of Bearded Baking Company, who brings a personal connection to the event’s mission of starting wider conversations on mental illness in the community.
Following the first Depressed Cake Shop run by English PR specialist Emma Thomas in 2013, NAMICTX dove into the event about five years ago with a few local bakeries agreeing to put their own spin on the inaugural Depressed Cake Shop baked good: a cake frosted in gray with vivid colors inside symbolizing hope within struggle. NAMICTX Executive Director Kate Hix says that since then they’ve run the event every May, even though the COVID-19 pandemic. “This year it's very exciting because we have 17 bakeries participating, including a home baker,” Hix says. “And we have really creative expressions of this idea of starting a conversation with a baked good, and what it means to capture both the struggles and the light in mental health conditions.”
As one of the participating bakers, Dills’ creation is a dark chocolate brownie whose fudgy exterior wraps around unexpected bright blackberry and lime flavors. To him, this reflects the idea that “you don't know what's going on underneath the surface. You don't know what's going on with an individual.” In his own experience, Dills says, difficult periods of personal struggle in relation to his gay identity and body image hurt his psychological well-being. “Being part of the LGBTQ community growing up in the conservative South can take a toll on mental health very easily,” he says and adds that after being outed to his mother on social media, he was cut off from his family for six months. While mired in those tumultuous times, Dills relates how important it was having the support of “what we call chosen family that let me be angry, let me cry, let me just express what I was feeling and how I was feeling.” Opening up, talking about his depression, made an immense difference for him, and Dills wants that support to be available for all of the LGBTQIA community. “In my opinion, the more you can talk about [mental health], and the more you talk about it with others, you normalize it and you make it a regular thing.”
Through events like Depressed Cake Shop and treats like Dills fudge brownies, Hix hopes that NAMICTX can start “a conversation with people who might not be ready to talk about mental health yet.” Every participating baker will have physical copies of NAMI resources laid out next to their confections, which Dills says have already inspired significant interactions at his bakery’s pop-ups. These spur of the moment discussions about the event and experiences behind his brownies are perfect for Dills, as he jokes that “I like to talk. Give me something to talk about [and] I'm going to do it."
This development excites Hix, who says “because 60% of adults with a mental illness don't receive services in any given year, and that includes our services, that means that 60% of people are suffering alone, especially in a pandemic. And so the idea that people were able to at least talk to someone and ask questions, and begin a conversation is exactly what the Depressed Cake Shop is about.”
Learn more about NAMI Central Texas’ mission and find a list of other bakeries, alongside Bearded Baking Company, taking part in the Depressed Cake Shop 2022 through May 14 at namicentraltx.org/event/depressed-cake-shop-2022.