You may have seen one recently – a small tattoo on a friend or passer-by. They’re fairly innocuous, but they have a big meaning, and are making an even bigger impact in the fight against stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
The semicolon tattoo may seem like a passing hipster fad, but its roots go much deeper than most fashionable trends. Started in 2013, Project Semicolon – a social media movement project – aims to spread awareness about mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention.
The History Of Project Semicolon
In spring of 2014, Project Semicolon founder Amy Bleuel chose a semicolon tattoo as a symbol to honor the memory of her father, who she lost to suicide.
“As the days passed and the project was developed further, it became clear that this symbol was not just about one person,” the Project Semicolon website states.
“We heard from people longing to continue their story and live a life that would inspire others to continue on as well.”
“Over the years Project Semicolon has become much more than just one person honoring a parent. Through musician support and social media, the message of hope and love has reached a big audience in many different countries, more than we could have ever anticipated.”
Although Project Semicolon has held events to raise money for crisis services, they stress that the project itself is not a crisis service, but rather meant to serve as inspiration(1).
Why A Semicolon?
While a semicolon tattoo may seem like just a sign of a really committed grammar nerd, the significance ascribed to it by Project Semicolon is real.
The semicolon symbolizes a point at which an author could have chosen to end a sentence, but didn’t – an analogy many people use when talking about confronting their own suicidal ideations.
The Importance Of Awareness
Mental illness is common in the United States, with many different demographics being affected – in particular, women and Native American individuals tend to have relatively high rates of mental illness(2). These mental illnesses include common ones such as depression and general anxiety, but also less common and more typically disabling conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
With so many people affected, there is a real need to fight the stigma associated with mental health conditions and raise awareness of crisis services for those struggling.
At an event last year held by Project Semicolon, over 400 people received semicolon tattoos, provided at a flat rate by several tattoo artists. The money from the event went towards the Agora Crisis Center, one of the oldest crisis centers in America, which runs crisis intervention services for people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems(3).
In partnering with crisis centers, Project Semicolon not only inspires, but provides much-needed support to programs helping people live with mental illness.