It started out as Sharpie on white T-shirts, a 35mm camera and the need to express. Now it’s a DIY lifestyle company advocating for mental health, individuality and sticking out to take a stand.
Founded by 30-year-old Las Vegas artist Ryan Brunty, Depressed Monsters focuses on promoting freedom to express oneself through ‘80s punk-inspired t-shirts, designer toys and accessories—all while raising awareness about mental health. Through their reverse tie-dye shirts and signature graphic, a monster named Yerman, the company is building a community that openly talks about their issues by living the mantra: “This is who I am and I’m struggling.”
In 2012, Brunty himself struggled with depression after the death of his grandfather. Brunty spent two weeks inside hanging dryer sheets on the windows and drawing monsters, or “self-portraits,” as he calls them. “I wasn’t comfortable in my skin, I was itchy all over and I started interpreting that as monsters and feeling like creatures were growing out of me,” Brunty says.
Itchy and isolated, Brunty posted his self-portraits on social media and encouraged people to talk about their struggles. This helped him cope with his depression and get back into the world. Yerman, the company’s poster monster, was the one that helped most.
“I just doodle and whatever comes out, comes out. I don’t remember drawing Yerman, but I remember finishing the last line, taking a step back. I could feel my stomach drop. I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s exactly how I feel and I don’t even know why,’” Brunty says.
Brunty officially launched the brand in 2014. Now Yerman’s scruffy chocolate brown fur, somber eyes and frightening horns are printed on almost all of Depressed Monsters’ merchandise and featured in murals around the Zappos campus, at Gold Spike and inside the Art Motel in Downtown Las Vegas, along with one at Grouchy John’s Coffee.
Through fashion, Brunty is using his brand as a talking point for mental health. “If we can start a conversation anywhere and educate anywhere, we can … turn sadness into creativity,” he says.
Brunty’s idea of drawing monsters to visualize what you’re going through has also reached professional therapists such as Jim Jobin, a local doctor and president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Nevada, who adopted Brunty’s concept and now has patients draw their monsters. “Some people who couldn’t talk about it started drawing their monsters and, all of a sudden, they would talk about it and express themselves,” Brunty says.
When possible, Depressed Monsters gives part of their proceeds to foundations promoting mental health research and awareness, such as national nonprofit The Jed Foundation. Brunty has also become an advocate for mental health and was a featured storyteller for a Jed Foundation event in New York with The Moth. Meanwhile, Brunty continues to collaborate and create with other companies such as OddSox to spread his message of self-expression and feeling comfortable rather than conforming.
“As soon as you realize that you’re in control of the ship and you’re the one that’s actually guiding that vessel through the ocean … it becomes a lot easier,” Brunty says.