Semicolon Tattoos: What They Mean When You See Them
If you’ve ever wondered “What does the semicolon tattoo mean?” then look no further. We have your answer on its meaning and origin of this strange tattoo.
Semicolon tattoos have been around for many years. If you’re not familiar, the semi-colon is this [;] symbol; it appears when two sentences are complete, but the ideas are close enough that they come together to form one sentence. Instead of using conjunctions like “and,” “or,” or “but” to link two sentences together, the semicolon does so instead.
For many people, a semicolon is a weird punctuation mark that they’ll rarely ever see, let alone use. Even those who are interested enough to understand how to use it may struggle with separate it from the similar punctuation mark of the colon [:]. But for thousands of people, it’s become something more. So what does the semicolon tattoo mean?
Semicolon tattoos started gaining popularity in 2013 and have been spreading ever since. On a finger, on the wrist, on the ankle—people are getting these tattoos everywhere. But since the use of semicolons is rare in writing, it may seem a bit odd to get a tattoo of a punctuation mark.
As you may have guessed, those with semicolon tattoos aren’t doing it to show off their love of a weird facet of grammar.
Instead, semicolon tattoos have become a symbol of mental health recognition. People get them as a reminder to themselves to stay strong, to remember the losses of loved ones, and to show their support for others. Those two small marks have a lot of power. So where did this meaning get its start.
In 2013, Amy Bleuel got her semicolon tattoo. The woman has lost her father to suicide. At the same time, she was also struggling against depression and mental illness. Depression is a very tough illness to live with, especially after the loss of a loved one. For Bleuel, the tattoo was both to honor the loss of her father and to give herself a symbol of hope.
“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. Though the semicolon symbol many related to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide and their will to continue […]to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning.”
This description comes from the Project Semicolon website. Bleuel founded the project to honor her father and spread hope to those struggling with mental illness. Five years since its founding, the organization continues to work to prevent suicide by spreading public awareness, educating communities, and equipping people with the right tools to provide support.
One of the project’s taglines is “Your story is not over,” and the semicolon is meant to symbolize just that. Project Semicolon encourages people to either draw semicolons on themselves or get a tattoo to help inspire themselves. As a symbol of mental health awareness, the tattoos caught on very quickly and spread.
The Growing Trend
Across 2015, there were numerous reports of the growing presence of semicolon tattoos across the internet. More and more people were getting them, and tattoo artists started noticing the increasing trend amongst their customers. Some people even blogged about their experiences in getting the tattoos.
Tattoo artists noted that many different types of people were coming in for semicolon tattoos in increasing amounts. Some would go alone, and some came in couples to show support for each other. While those getting the tattoos tended not to explain their reasons, there wasn’t much need to ask.
While there aren’t any ongoing news stories about semicolon tattoos, it’s clear that Bleuel has created a symbol that has lasted all the way to this day. Semicolon tattoos are common amongst people, either as a reminder to themselves or a way to open to others.
The moment of recognition that comes from seeing someone else with a semicolon tattoo and knowing they’re part of the same community is a meaningful encounter that for a group that deals with a lot of stigmas.
Most recently, one of the characters in Netflix’s series 13 Reasons Why got a semicolon tattoo to in honor of another who had committed suicide. While the symbol in the show was fictional, many members of the cast and production team of 13 Reasons Why have also gotten semicolon tattoos to help raise awareness.
For these members and thousands of others, the tattoo symbolizes beginning another chapter of one’s life instead of committing suicide. The use of the symbol in the show shows how far the simple idea of one woman has spread into creating a nationwide phenomenon.
The Struggles of Suicide, Depression, and Mental Illness
Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. It’s also one of the top reasons among teenagers. Depression, self-harm, and other mental illnesses can wreak havoc on the lives of those who struggle with them. Unfortunately, these problems don’t get the support and attention they deserve.
It’s easy to see when someone is struggling with a physical illness. However, the signs of mental illness are trickier to understand because they don’t always manifest themselves in a way that others can immediately see.
Much like those who struggle with chronic pain have difficulties convincing others that their pain is real, anyone with a mental illness is not only in a constant battle with themselves but also with getting others to understand the severity of their struggles.
The common problem is that many people don’t comprehend what mental illness can do to a person. As a result, people struggling with depression and other diseases often feel compelled to hide their diseases out of fear of marginalization. It’s all too common for these people to hear that their “problems aren’t real” or “it’s only in your head, so it’s not too serious,” even though that’s not the case at all.
Hearing these sorts of comments can make someone’s depression worse. It can also stop people from reaching out for the love and support they desperately need, which creates a negative feedback loop: the less supported someone feels, the worse their depression gets, which leads to further isolation. Unfortunately, for many people, that worsening depression can lead to taking their own lives.
The Media Effect
Though there are many mental health awareness campaigns like Project Semicolon, the public awareness of depression is still very low. Media perpetuates a lot of adverse psychological health stereotypes, especially those concerning suicide.
More recent series are aiming to show the real effects of depression and suicide, but there’s still the problem of romanticization. Uninformed portrayals of self-harm in fiction can make it seem almost desirable.
Likewise, news outlets can also sensationalize suicide, blowing stories out of proportion instead of reporting on the subject objectively. Both of these approaches lead to problematic public views and increase suicide rates.
But even when media takes proper care to portray suicide correctly, there’s still a lot of negative resentment. Reports on self-harm and suicide meet with skepticism as if those suffering from depression have nothing in their lives worthy of feeling depressed. These reactions show a significant problem with the public perception of mental illness.
People act as if there’s a certain bar in life that prevents you from feeling depressed, but that’s not the case. Depression can affect anyone, no matter their status in life. We, as a society, need to recognize that, just like anyone can catch a cold, anyone can potentially struggle with mental illness.
Taking Steps in the Right Direction
While there’s still much work to happen before knowledge about depression, suicide, and other mental illnesses becomes widespread, movements like semicolon tattoos and Project Semicolon are working to make a difference. The nonprofit’s educational efforts are working with a beautiful goal in mind: spreading the right information and preparing people to help prevent suicide.
Suicide is preventable. Recognizing the warning signs and knowing ways to help can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It may even be the difference between them choosing to commit suicide or try to face one more day.
But more than just providing support, Project Semicolon has created something incredible in building a symbol for people suffering from depression and mental illness. The semicolon now represents remembrance, hope, and community. When someone sees a tattoo on someone else, they know they’ve found an ally, even if it’s just in a tiny moment of solidarity.
The prevalence of semicolon tattoos doesn’t seem like it’ll be fading. Five more years down the line we may still see them, and tattoo artists may get requests for them. The question of “What does the semicolon tattoo mean?” may never go away, either, but that serves an opportunity to teach those who don’t know what it means. Those conversations can lay the foundation for even further research and support.
Know that you know the meaning of the semicolon tattoo, you can understand just what it symbolizes to so many people; maybe it now means the same to you.