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What does the semi colon tattoo mean?

You may have seen the semicolon tattoos – cropping up on people's necks, arms and feet recently. It’s not just another superficial beauty trend, nor does it have anything to do with grammar or punctuation. These people with semicolon tattoos are actually doing their bit to improve awareness about mental health issues.

Project Semicolon is a serious movement born in the social media in 2013. The semicolon represents mental health – from raising awareness about the struggle with mental health issues to preventing suicide.

Their self-described blurb claims this is a movement dedicated to offering hope and love to anyone struggling with depression, addiction, suicide or self-injury. The aim of the Project semicolon is to encourage, love and inspire.

The reason they chose a semicolon is because grammatically the punctuation is used when the author could have chosen to end the sentence but decided not to. The analogy is that the author is everyone struggling with mental health issues, and the sentence is your life.

The Semicolon project was founded by Jeremy Jaramillo and Jenn Brown who first created the Agora Crisis Center in the University of New Mexico in 1970. Initially it was conceived as a day where people were asked to draw a semicolon on their bodies and take a picture of it and spread awareness on social media. But it soon grew into a bigger movement.

The project held events at various tattoo parlours where hundreds of people could get a semi colon tattoo for a flat rate. These events, along with the social media attention, have made this a global movement now. Now people all over the world are marking themselves with permanent tattoos to remind themselves and others about their struggle to survive and emerge triumphant against suicidal thoughts.

The tattoo has also led to less stigma surrounding suicide and it is often a conversation starter for complicated topics like mental health and suicide prevention. People tend to see the tattoo and ask what it is about and that prompts the person to share the purpose and raise awareness about suicide and depression.

Apart from being a conversation starter it also aims at offering help and support to anyone in crisis or needing someone to talk to. The center has a helpline where people can call and talk to someone if they feel overwhelmed by their mental health issues.

This is an example of how one small gesture – a tattoo – can start a global movement. The next time someone feels helpless and hopeless – direct them to the semicolon tattoo to get talking about why it’s important to survive and overcome these thoughts and be hopeful.

Further reading

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5 things our body tells us about mental health

5 things your dreams tell you about your mental health

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