Semicolon tattoos

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A recent trend has emerged for tattoos of the semicolon (;).

Started by the semicolon project back in 2013, the semicolon is taken as a symbol of continuing. Instead of ending a sentence, as you would with a full stop, the semi colon allows you to carry it on, usually in a different direction. The metaphor of your life as a sentence is at the heart of the semicolon project, and it encourages people not to put a stop to their lives through suicide, but to carry them on.

The popularity of this project has led to an outburst of semicolon-shaped tattoos, usually on the wrist. Whilst many are lauding the semicolon as a useful tool in breaking the silence around mental health problems, there may be other issues around the tattoo which should be considered before rushing into one.

Firstly, a huge proportion of mental health sufferers – particularly those who suffer or have suffered with suicidal ideation – struggle with self-harm. Tattooing can in some cases be considered a form of self-harm when it is done in order to experience the painful sensations a tattoo may cause, and both tattoos and self-harm can leave permanent marks on your body. For those who feel the need for a complete fresh start in their lives, permanent body modifications can cause unhappiness in the long term. Starting afresh requires the minimum possible crossover with your former self.

Then there is stigma. In spite of the equality act of 2010, many people with mental health conditions still report discrimination which impacts their ability to find a job, work, and make long-term friends and relationships. Wearing a visible mark of mental illness isn’t advisable in a world which discriminates against it. Similarly, many employers will reject applicants with visible tattoos for any reasons. Surely those who have contemplated suicide already have lives that are difficult enough without adding future barriers to employment?

However, for those who struggle daily with suicidal thoughts, a physical reminder that they can take with themselves everywhere may be a huge help. For anyone in that phase of their lives, I suggest they grasp onto anything they can to get through it.

For anyone affected by suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues, please consider ringing the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, or if you are under 18, call Childline on 0800 1111