What Is a Semi-Colon Tattoo?

As part of some recent research for an article on semi-colons I stumbled across an organization called Project Semi-colon that got my attention.  So I dug deeper, and learned that a semi-colon tattoo was not for grammar lovers, but a way to show solidarity with suicide survivors and individuals suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.

What is Project Semi-colon?

Project Semi-colon’was founded by Amy Bleuel in 2013 to advocate for mental health wellness, with a focus on suicide prevention.  The year 2013 was the 10th anniversary of her father’s death by suicide.   

Amy wanted a symbol that would represent preventing or overcoming suicide attempts, and she was inspired by the concept of a semi-colon. Unlike a period, which signals the end of a sentence, a semi-colon represents a continuation of a sentence. She saw it as a metaphor for choosing life. Just as a writer uses a semi-colon to continue a sentence, a tattoo of a semi-colon can remind people they can choose to continue  In an interview, Bleuel said this:

“We are saying you are the author, and the sentence is your life, and you are choosing to continue.”

it is a visual that represents the idea that life can go on; there is always another day and another opportunity.

Why Use a Semi-colon Tattoo?

The semicolon can be a symbol of solidarity with others.  It can also be a conversation starter.  For many, however, it is personal symbol of what they have overcome.  It expresses the sentiment of Elton John’s song, “I’m Still Standing.”

Some, like Selena Gomez, get a simple tattoo of the punctuation mark.  Other common places for the small semi-colon tattoos are on the wrist or ankle, behind the ear, or on a finger.   Selena’s is on her left wrist.

Tattoo Artist at work, Las Vegas

The semicolon can also be integrated into a tattoo.  It can be integrated into line drawings, such as the body of a butterfly.  Some add it into hopeful words like Warrior or Life.  Semicolon tattoo mandalas are popular, and some people get even more elaborate tattoos.

What is Amy Bleuel’s Story?

Amy Bleuel’s story is both inspiring and tragic.  She overcame so much: the loss of her father, physical abuse at the hands of her stepmother, sexual abuse, rape, self-harming.  Through all of this she started Project Semicolon and became a spokesperson for mental health.

Unfortunately, in 2017 Amy took her life.  Many in the mental health community were devastated by this loss.  How could someone who had advocated so strongly for mental health succumb to it?  It led to a lot of soul-searching and a realization that we as a nation are still not doing enough to help people suffering from mental illnesses.

Perhaps because she was seen as a symbol for the fight against suicide, she felt that she shouldn’t express that she was having suicidal thoughts.  If that is the case, imagine the stress she must have been under.

Does Thinking About Suicide Mean I Will Try To?

Some people worry that if they have thought about killing themselves it means they will.  This misconception can be harmful.  Because many people feel embarrassed about the topic, they won’t tell anyone.  As their depression continues, they begin to see depression as an escape but are afraid to tell anyone because of the social stigma.

If you have thought something like, “I wish I had never been born, or I wish I wasn’t here anymore” you are having passive solution ideation.  They are uncomfortable thoughts, but they don’t mean you are going to take your life.  You might simply be having those kinds of thoughts as a way to handle difficult situations.

But here are signs that you should take it seriously:

Thinking about it frequently

Making plans on ways to do so

Writing about it

There are other signs, such as thinking you need to plan your funeral or make a will, giving things away, and taking steps (such as buying a gun) that you could use to try and take your life.

If you begin to make plans, then you need to find someone to talk to.   It could be a therapist, minister, or close friend.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, call a suicide hotline.  They will be able to provide resources to help you. 

Although there are several hotlines, the National Suicide Hotline’s number is easy to remember: 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433). 

What Resources Can I Find on the Project Semi-colon Website?

The Project Semicolon website has a wealth of information and resources.  The Learn tab contains articles on a dozen mental health concerns, such as Bipolar Disorders, Dissociative Disorders, PTSD, and Eating Disorders, among others.  The Suicide Prevention page has an overview of signs and ways to respond.

The I’m Concerned About Someone page has more specific information, including suggestions for the types of questions to ask and how to respond to someone who is thinking about suicide.

Bottom Line

Often punctuation marks can spark debate (such as the Oxford comma), but in this case a punctuation mark is a symbol of solidarity and support for mental health and the stigma of suicide.

What other punctuation mark has had such an effect?

Let us know if you know someone with a semi-colon tattoo (or have one yourself).

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