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A person tattooing a lotus flower

A look at tattoos in the mental health and disability communities

September 7, 2018

Warning: This post deals with issues of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, or for advice and support contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.


Years ago, some people may have said there was a stigma around tattoos… but these days, people all around the world are actually getting tattoos to break down the stigma of mental illness and disability!

Tattoos are personal, very personal. And a symbol, picture, word or quote may hold a lot of personal meaning. There can be so many reasons someone gets a tattoo (and it’s totally up to an adult if, when, and where they get one), but what we do know is for some a tattoo really can say a thousand words.

Here are a few tattoos that are seen in the mental health and disability communities…

Semicolon – the sentence does not end

Representing mental health and suicide prevention, the semicolon is one of the most well-known tattoos.

Project Semicolon was born on social media in 2013, when people were encouraged to post images of semicolons drawn on their wrists to support those with mental illness. But it quickly grew into something bigger and more permanent.

Today, people all over the world are tattooing the mark as a reminder of theirs or their loved one’s survival, journey or memory.

Why a semicolon?

The founders tell us, “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

For many who have had thoughts of suicide, the semicolon has become a symbol of hope and a way to say, “I’m still here.”

 

 

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A happy hormone

There are a couple of other designs that are popular in the mental health community as well – such as the serotonin hormone tattoo.

Serotonin is a chemical in our human bodies. It is sometimes called the happy chemical, because it contributes to well-being and happiness. Many researchers also believe that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence our mood.

For this reason, this tattoo can be a reminder to stay happy and calm.

 

 

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Another popular tattoo in the mental health community is the lotus flower. This can represent a spiritual connection and the ability to overcome anything. Or, since the lotus grows in muddy water, some people also get it inked to represent their rise from hardships.

Others use the idea of breathing in their tattoo. Tattoos such as ‘just breathe’ can remind people to take slow, mindful breaths when in times of stress or panic, or when things seem overwhelming.

Tattoos inspired by physical disability

Pinterest and Instagram showcase a huge range of sweet, touching, ingenious and at times funny collection of tattoos about physical disability.

Some have chosen to proudly reflect their disability through a tattoo such as the wheelchair heart logo, an adaptation of the international symbol for disability.

Others have embraced their sense of humour.  For example, a woman’s ‘mute’ tattoo caused quite a stir online as a creative way to let people know she was hearing impaired.

The woman captioned her post: “Since I’m deaf on one ear I thought this was a friendly [way] to tell the world not [to talk] to me from the left.”

 


In a touching story, New Zealand man Alistair Campbell got a Cochlear implant tattooed onto his shaved head to replicate the implants worn by his six-year-old hearing-impaired daughter, Charlotte.

 

Starting a new chapter

Some people who have self-harmed, still have the physical scars. It’s important to know these scars can be very meaningful – they can be a proud part of who someone is and represent their journey.

But for others, these scars can make them self-conscious and be a reminder of a chapter in their life that they wish to move on from. Of these people, some are using tattoos to cover or reclaim their scars or to start afresh, or, sometimes it can even be to give their story more context.

 

 

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If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, or for advice and support contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.