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Taking away the stigma of depression

Former lawyer turned author Sabrinah Morad uses unique methods to create awareness about mental health

20 May 2020 / 11:11 H.

SHE MAY be neither a trained counselor, psychologist nor psychiatrist, but former lawyer and full-time mother-of-three Sabrinah Morad has done more than her fair share in highlighting the issue of depression in our country.

Sabrinah’s beloved stepfather suffered from depression, and this inspired her to find a way to address the condition by removing all the social stigma that comes with it.

In 2013, she started The Depression Cake Shop, a pop-up cake shop where bakers donate specially-decorated grey cakes that, once cut, reveal bright colours within.

“The bakers who donated the cakes started opening up about their own stories, and how they coped with depression. They would tell me about a sister or a friend who had it. This gave them a platform to talk about it in a very informal way. So it was a gathering of people who had similar afflictions who got to be with people who were supporting them.”

Sabrinah wrote teh book ‘Grey Bear Days’ to help parents talk to their children about depression. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok
Sabrinah wrote teh book ‘Grey Bear Days’ to help parents talk to their children about depression. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok

The Depressed Cake Shop first began in Kuala Lumpur, and Sabrinah later opened outlets in other cities around Malaysia.

“I did not do one last year, but was actually planning to do one at the start of this year. I haven’t planned or organised anything. With this Covid-19, everything seems uncertain.”

She also recalled how when she first started the first Depressed Cake Shop pop-up outlet, mental health awareness was still something relatively new.

“I think since then, there has been more publicity about it, more workshops, charities being set up and NGOs taking up the cause. There has been a lot more media coverage about it [especially] during this Covid-19 pandemic. When people are feeling isolated, it sets off mental illness, depression and anxiety.

Sabrinah started the pop-up cake shop The Depressed Cake Shop to raise awareness of the condition. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok
Sabrinah started the pop-up cake shop The Depressed Cake Shop to raise awareness of the condition. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok

“When you don’t have access to your doctor or counsellor or medication, all this will make things harder. Hopefully the awareness and support from family members (if you are not living alone), might help.”

The Depressed Cake Shop served to destigmatise mental illness, it also inspired her to write a children’s book (illustrated by Wen Dee Tan) called Grey Bear Days, which helps educate children about depression. The story is essentially about a boy known as Little Bee, whose idyllic world with his mother is disrupted by the appearance of a grey bear.

“The thing about stories is that they connect with people on a very different level. You can share a story that is very personal to a writer.

“Reading a book or sharing a story about depression can give you a better understanding of the illness.”

Why a bear? “In fairy tales you have nice bears, and not very nice bears. So the bear here is a metaphor for depression, and it is very relatable. The bear is not menacing in the book. It is there to [represent] the illness that the boy’s mum is having.

Some samples of cakes from The Depressed Cake Shop. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok
Some samples of cakes from The Depressed Cake Shop. – Courtesy of Aisyah Ambok

“What I was trying to show is that the bear as an illness is something separate from Little Bee’s mother. It is to show that depression does not define a person. Depression is not part of your personality. It is like a cold. It comes to you, you get better, it goes away.”

Sabrinah said that although the book seems simple, every word was carefully chosen because it had a purpose.

Living with a person who suffers from depression isn’t easy, especially for an innocent child who doesn’t quite comprehend what is happening. This book is something parents can read with their children to help them understand the illness.

“Sometimes a child doesn’t understand why mum is so withdrawn. Did they do something naughty, and is that why mum is keeping herself in her room?”

In the book, Little Bee realises that mum has become withdrawn not because of him, but because of what the grey bear has done to her.

With the current spotlight on depression due to isolation associated with Covid-19, Sabrinah said: “I hope my book has always been relevant, been used as a tool to talk about depression. I think we do need to talk about it as much as possible.”

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