Befrienders KL apologises for causing offence with Depressed Cake Shop fundraiser

Tan Mei Zi
·4-min read
The mental health hotline received flak from social media users who deemed the grey desserts ‘insensitive’ towards those with mental health issues. — Pixabay pic
The mental health hotline received flak from social media users who deemed the grey desserts ‘insensitive’ towards those with mental health issues. — Pixabay pic

PETALING JAYA, Apr 5 — Befrienders KL has issued an apology after their collaboration with the Depressed Cake Shop sparked anger on social media.

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) was a beneficiary of the KL 2021 Depressed Cake Shop fundraiser last week, which saw bakeries and cafes around the Klang Valley donating sales from desserts decorated with grey icing to Befrienders KL.

The initiative was not well-received on Twitter, with some users labelling the cakes and ice cream “outrageous” and “insensitive.”

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“The theme is outrageous, insensitive, and overall demeaning to mental health. Please, take this down,” said @ElvineMakamaki.

One person said that a different approach centred around positive emotions and statements might have worked better.

“Do bakeries think depression and mental health issues can be sweetened with sugar and icing?

“Just sell normal muffins, cupcakes, and bread with ‘Love your mental health’ writing and donate.

“Why crying cakes and black sewn-up hearts?” asked @HanTy75, referring to the photos used in Befrienders KL’s promotional picture.

The mental health hotline responded to the controversy on April 3 and apologised to those who were “adversely affected” by their post.

The organisation included background information about the Depressed Cake Shop in their statement to clarify their goal in helping those struggling with mental health.

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“Many people find it difficult to talk about mental health issues but many people can readily enjoy a piece of delicious cake.

“So, why not make talking about mental health issues as easy and open as that?” Befrienders KL wrote in their statement.

The NGO added that they have been struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic due to a drop in donations and that they were grateful to be a beneficiary under the Depressed Cake Shop.

They acknowledged how the concept of the fundraiser could have been hurtful to some and promised to be more mindful of people’s feelings in future projects.

“While the survival of an NGO like us is very much dependent on donations, the feelings of the community we serve is paramount.

“It deeply hurts us that you are hurt. Please be assured we are listening to you and will be mindful of your thoughts and feelings for future collaborations.”

While the response to Befrienders KL’s apology was muted compared to their original post, one Twitter user offered his support and commended the hotline for being a key player in mental health services in Malaysia.

“It’s easy to comment on optics but much harder to look for meaning.

“Befrienders started following a very dark time in our country and remains relevant even after 50 years, despite the exponential growth of mental health services,” wrote @ravivarmarao, referring to the creation of Befrienders KL after the May 13 race riots in 1969.

The Depressed Cake Shop encourages bakers living with depression and mental illnesses to use their experiences as inspiration for their designs. — Unsplash pic
The Depressed Cake Shop encourages bakers living with depression and mental illnesses to use their experiences as inspiration for their designs. — Unsplash pic

The Depressed Cake Shop is the brainchild of British public relations specialist Emma Thomas, who created a mental health charity fundraiser in 2013 themed around grey cakes with a pop of colour to symbolise hope.

Bakers and mental health advocates across the globe have since brought the Depressed Cake Shop to their own countries and pop-up events have been held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Glasgow, Houston, Seattle, Kuala Lumpur, Atlanta, Australia, India, and more.

The Kuala Lumpur group previously held a Depressed Cake Shop pop-up in 2013 which raised RM18,000 for the Malaysian Mental Health Association, according to a report by The Star.

It returned once more in 2018 to raise funds for ANGSANAcare, a non-governmental organisation that provides free professional psychotherapy services for underprivileged children who are chronically or severely ill.

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