8 Tattoos that Represent Mental Health Struggles
Tattooing has been practiced for thousands of years by cultures all around the world. In America, body art has risen in popularity since the 1970s. It is estimated that nearly 38% of young Americans have at least one tattoo. Tattoos are deeply personal. Creating a permanent image on the body is not usually an impulsive decision (usually). For those who struggle with mental health or love someone who does, body art can represent honor, pride, and it can be a reminder of self-empowerment. It can also represent encouragement and support for others’ struggles as well. Here are some examples of popular body art that has roots in the struggle with mental health.
1. The Semicolon Tattoo
The semicolon tattoo was popularized by Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon, a faith-based non-profit dedicated to inspire and bring hope to others who struggle with depression and mental health. In literature, the semicolon represents a writer’s choice to continue a sentence that would otherwise have come to an end. Bleuel designed her semicolon tattoo in honor of her father who, after a long battle with depression, committed suicide. Since Project Semicolon’s inception in 2013, thousands of individuals have created personalized semicolons worn as body art. Sadly, Amy Bleuel lost her battle with mental health in 2017. The work of Project Semicolon has continued, however, helping millions of individuals and their families.
Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine, is a monoamine neurotransmitter that regulates happiness, among other feelings and capabilities, in the brain. As a tattoo, this often-personalized image reminds us that depression and other mental health struggles are not our fault, but the result of chemical imbalances in the brain.
Three small dots in a row, an ellipses in English punctuation, means different things to different people. In English dialogue, the ellipses implies that a statement or thought trailed off without completion. In the recovery realm, the ellipses can be interpreted that a person’s life may have changed course, but it isn’t yet over. Beyond what we first believe is the whole story, the story continues. There is hope, time, and opportunity for something more.
The butterfly has long been a symbol of longevity through transformation. Some in recovery from mental illness, trauma, substance addiction, and disordered eating choose the butterfly in celebration and acknowledgment of a significant shift in their life path – a rebirthing, bringing endless opportunities for growth and happiness.
5. The Phoenix
Some in recovery choose the phoenix rising. In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that cyclically regenerates and is born again from the ash and fire of destruction. This symbolism weighs heavy for many who have experienced the devastation of mental health struggles and trauma.
6. Past and Future
Acknowledging the past while looking forward to the future – this is what motivates and encourages some people in recovery. What happened before, how we felt, how we coped, does not dictate our future ability to thrive and be happy and well.
7. Inhale, Exhale
Breath work, meditation, and mindfulness are powerful tools for recovery from and life with mental illness. This beautiful reminder to pause and focus on breath is so much more than the instinct to breathe. It is empowerment. It is choice. This powerful tool for mood management, tattooed delicately as a reminder, also implies a positive outlook – one of hope and promise.
8. The Lotus
The lotus flower is a large water lily that grows from a tuber beneath the surface, rooted in murky water, and emerges above the waterline with brilliantly colored stems and petals. The lotus is revered in many ancient religions and symbolizes purity of heart and mind, enlightenment, regeneration, and rebirth.
Whether worn as a reminder to self or as a celebrated, declarative encouragement to others, recovery tattoos are more than just body art. If you struggle with mental health or you love someone who does, reach out for help. These tattoos pay testament to the hope we all can find for health, happiness, balance, and a sense of purpose. Reach out for help today.