Depressed Monsters: Fighting Mental Illness With Street Art
Most people, at some point in their life, either experience, or see a loved one experience, some form of mental illness. In fact, ‘most’ people actually equates to a statistic of 1 in 4 people worldwide. That’s approximately a quarter of all the people on Earth – and that’s only including the countries from which we can get official data*. To say mental health issues are common in this modern world is clearly an understatement.
Statistics reveal an even bigger worry; of around 450 million people worldwide suffering from mental health issues, 2 out of 3 never receive professional help due to stigma, discrimination and neglect**.
Not only that, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 33% of countries allocate less than 1% of their total health budgets to mental health. Another 33% spend only 1% of their budgets on mental health. It is clear to see that there is not enough investment in resources that can help combat such a serious worldwide problem, which just exasperates the problem.
That’s where Depressed Monsters comes in.
What is Depressed Monsters?
Whilst suffering from severe depression and anxiety himself, Ryan Brunty created the character of Yerman, a sad cartoon yeti that he felt represented how he was feeling at the time.
This character Yerman was the inspiration for his clothing line, Depressed Monsters, and features heavily in his street murals throughout the USA. Through his murals, his art and his frequent talks, he works to raise awareness and erase stigma surrounding mental health issues.
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Helping Mental Illness Through Art
Ryan’s artwork, characters and murals are particularly unique because they approach the topic of mental health in a way that makes the issue somewhat lighthearted and therefore easier to talk about, rather than something that should be hushed up and hidden away.
In fact, his ability to portray such a serious issue through the use of funny characters and lighthearted quotes is something that those suffering from mental health issues feel they can really connect to, no doubt the reason for Yerman’s enthusiastic following.
To those feeling alone and hopeless, putting a face or character to their illness is a tool that can help them cope with their feelings, or even aid in explaining those feelings more clearly to friends and family.
It is no doubt this relatability, and his previous personal experience battling depression, that has led to him being asked to share his story through various talks and podcasts. Recently psychotherapists have even been using the ‘Yerman Method‘ to treat their patients by having them draw their own monsters to give a face to their symptoms and feelings.
Ryan has also worked with mental health agencies across the USA, including the Jed Foundation, Clinton Foundation and Project UR OK.
It’s clear to see that Ryan is on a one-man mission to spread mental health awareness through the use of his character Yerman, putting a somewhat friendly (cartoon) face to an illness that is so often hidden through shame and fear.
Intrigued and impressed, I asked Ryan to tell me a little more about his story and why he created Depressed Monsters.
Why did you start Depressed Monsters?
“When my grandfather passed in 2012, I went through an extremely deep bout of depression that resulted in me not leaving my house for two weeks and losing my job.
I began to draw self portraits every morning as a way to cope and one day a fuzzy yeti watercolor was staring back at me that fully encapsulated how I was feeling; this yeti turned out to be ‘Yerman‘. Also during this time, I was painting different monsters in tunics accompanied with sombré poems under the hashtag #depressedmonsters on Instagram and Twitter.
After people started relating to Yerman and telling me how they were drawing their own “depressed monsters” to cope with their anxiety/depression, I started printing Yerm on shirts.
The first edition of these shirts sold out in about a month and I knew this little guy was helping more than just me dealing with my emotions.
I decided to write a blog post for Suicide Prevention Day back in 2014 since not a lot of people knew where the yeti had come from. The post started being shared and people started sharing their own stories and I realised one of the most powerful things one can do is open up and share their journeys for others.
Now, Depressed Monsters has grown into a fully-fledged clothing line in which I donate a portion of all proceeds to mental health agencies and fund public speaking engagements across the country.”
You are an artist yourself; how did you get into street art and mural work?
“I won a colouring contest at a local Albertson’s grocery store when I was 5; I think it was Ninja Turtles or something; ever since then I wanted to draw. I would doodle during every class period and try to create my own superheroes, mostly ripoffs of Spawn comics or drawing Alfred E. Neuman as Batman.
Then in college, I decided to take an art class to see if I had the chops to do anything other than doodles. Turns out I was terrible at drawing still lifes, my hand or anything that wasn’t a cartoon. The teacher ended up flunking me because she said cartoons weren’t an art form. Due to this, I stopped drawing for a bit and instead focused on working odd jobs to pay for college and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
A few years later, I started exhibiting 1980s inspired mashups at First Fridays in Las Vegas as part of a collective called The 80s Kids. We made digital prints and started throwing events which was a good introduction to exhibiting and dealing with nerves of showcasing artwork. It was during that time that the collective started to dissolve and my grandfather passed and I started doing self portraits which led to Yerman.
I kept Yerman in the confines of my own home for a few years, being really protective of showcasing him in galleries or on murals because I wasn’t ready to let him go quite yet; it was a part of me and I was still really self-conscious about it.
Then in 2014 I did my first mural at Zappos HQ which led to bigger murals and then painting at festivals such as Coachella and Life is Beautiful. I’ve also appeared on America’s Next Top Model and Real World.”
Who or what influenced you when you created Depressed Monsters?
“I’ve always been influenced by punk music and punk culture. Growing up, I was really into the DIY aspect of skate punk; making zines, writing on t-shirts with sharpies, self-producing music.
I was playing drums in the garage on the weekends with my friends, skating at night and drawing whenever I could; monsters were always the constant. So, Depressed Monsters has always had a DIY approach because of this.”
When it comes to mental health issues, there is much more stigma surrounding men suffering than there is for women. In a society that celebrates and idolises stereotypical masculinity (ie. being physically and mentally strong), men are far less likely to be outspoken about suffering from depression or mental health issues for fear of being viewed as ‘weak’ – which is not at all the case.
This means it takes real guts for a man to speak out about his battle with any form of mental illness so kudos to Ryan for creating Depressed Monsters and doing his bit to raise awareness.
*Mental Health Foundation, 2016
**World Health Organisation, 2016