With male depression rarely discussed, the 2014 suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams had an impact that rippled around the world, and prompted musician Aiden Hatfield to assess his own emotional health. He realised that music is his medication and it could be for others, too
Musician Aiden Hatfield was 25 when the news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke in 2014. It was an event that shocked the world. Why would someone seemingly so happy take their own life?
For many years before this, Aiden had known he didn’t feel as happy as he should, but assumed that was how everyone else felt – it was just a part of life. The media conversation around Williams’ suicide made him realise that feeling this way wasn’t actually the norm. He saw the parallel between himself and the actor – both outgoing people, comfortable being the centre of attention, but with an underlying unhappiness.
With this realisation came the impetus for Aiden to do something to help support other people in a similar situation to him. By connecting music and fashion, he thought of a way he could positively support those with mental health issues.
The concept of a clothing brand with a supportive mission had been on Aiden’s agenda for a while, but it was in November 2014 that he decided to set up In Music We Trust and donate 50% of its profits to a mental health charity.
There is a history of depression in my family, and it was always talked about negatively
For years Aiden had struggled with depression, without actually realising what it was. The Leeds-based musician had been creating music since the age of 13, both in bands and as a solo artist. From the moment he first picked up a guitar and started playing, he felt good. It was something that always lifted his mood. Aiden saw his artistry as his medicine – as it was when he was creating music that he felt most fulfilled –and he thought that the concept would resonate with others.
He knew that music is one of the few things that everybody can connect with, and felt that he couldn’t be the only person to get pleasure from listening to, and creating, music. Band merchandise appeared to sell well, so rather than the clothing he designed denoting a love for a particular artist, it would be people showing admiration for every song that had ever spoken to them.
He set about designing the logos; not a graphic designer or artist by trade, it took a while to perfect his ideas. The simplicity of the designs connect with people and he now receives pictures of people wearing his clothing every day, which he says is “surreal and really cool”.
“I didn’t want to tell people I was suffering with depression,” says Aiden. “There is a history of depression, suicide and addiction in my family, and it was always talked about negatively.”
Instead of talking to his friends and family, Aiden set up the brand, thinking it would be a hint to those around him. However, he found the topic difficult to broach and when asked, he always denied the clothing brand had anything to do with his own mental health.
He marketed the T-shirt and hoodie designs through social media, with a positive response. Six months after the brand launched, it came to the attention of local media. It was then that a pre-recorded interview with BBC Look North aired, and the presenter introduced Aiden as the “brand founder who suffers with depression”.
“I had spoken to the journalist before the interview and she asked if I had depression,” Aiden explains. “I said ‘yes’ not realising she would use it on air. As I watched, I felt that cold sweat of panic, but at the same time, a sense of relief. My family and friends were very supportive and weren’t surprised.”
The official diagnosis came when he finally went to his doctor, two years after he started the brand.
The only awkwardness he encountered as a result of the news coming out was with some of his neighbours, who appeared to be unsure how to talk to him following the on air revelation.
“I could understand why some people would find it awkward to talk to me. It’s not the type of thing you get taught about at school,” says Aiden. “Luckily there is so much information available online now, it’s easy for people to educate themselves. Or just ask the person how they are.”
Aiden originally donated 50% of the In Music We Trust profits to Depression Alliance, but the donations moved to Mind when they took over the charity in 2016. To date, Aiden has donated more than £1,800.
In Music We Trust isn’t affiliated with Mind and Aiden makes donations periodically as any private individual would. The donations help Mind continue to provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. As the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind also campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding of mental illness.
The clothing brand, which now offers four different T-shirts, two hoodie designs, wristbands, beanies and a goodie bag, has received an amazingly positive social media response. A total of 70,000 people follow the brand on Twitter, as well as 94,000 followers on Aiden’s personal Twitter account.
Aiden holds a live stream every Monday evening at 8pm to connect with his audience, answering questions about mental health, music and everything in between. The guitarist signs off by performing one of his original songs.
Many people now contact Aiden via social media to tell him they are struggling with their mental health. He is often the first person people confide in, which he sees as a real privilege.
“The response has been really positive,” Aiden says. “So many people contact me to support what I’m doing. I’ve also been surprised by the response from people who aren’t suffering with any mental health issues, who reach out.
What I’ve realised is that the stigma around mental health often lies within the people suffering with depression, rather than those who aren’t.” It was the fear of judgement from friends, family, and society as a whole, that was his biggest concern. The reality, from his experience however, is that people generally just want to help.
Aiden has learnt how to manage his mental health in the best way possible for him. Rather than dealing with depression one episode at a time, he has set up his life in a way so that it is something he’s excited about. His openness to discuss his mental health has encouraged Twitter followers to ask him for advice about issues related to managing depression. He advocates any method that helps that particular individual, and always encourages people to talk to their GP.
“The clothing brand, supporting people online and making music is what gets me excited,” says Aiden. “I’m not invincible, I still feel down, and that can make it more difficult because when the depression hits I don’t have a ‘reason’. To get through it, I play music – that’s my daily medication.”
So what’s next for the brand? Aiden is excited to release new music and go on tour, with In Music We Trust as his merchandise. He hopes to spread the message to as wide an audience as possible and continue to donate 50% of the profits to Mind.