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July 22, 2015
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

The Real Significance Behind The Semicolon Tattoo Trend

July 22, 2015 05:55 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

There have been a significant number of semi colon tattoos showing up in the news in July. This trend has been worldwide and was started by Project Semicolon, an organization that focuses on concerns of mental illness such as:  suicide, depression, addiction,and self-injury.

Why the semicolon?  

Because an author inserts a semicolon at a point where a sentence could be ended, but is not ended. The reminder is that you are the author of your own life and can choose to continue, rather than end it.  

The semicolon is seen as a sign of hope and is intended to encourage  individuals who are suffering to pause before taking action to injure themselves, or end their lives.

Project Semicolon was founded by Amy Bleuel two years ago.  Amy’s father killed himself in 2003.  Through the hashtag #projectsemicolon, the principles of self-love, mutual protection and concern, and the reality and power of choice have spread globally.  #projectsemicolon is a place where people can connect, offer support, and, maybe, most importantly, learn that each life story is of value to someone else.

Reduce Mental Health Stigma

The goal of this and similar groups is, in part, to diminish the stigma of mental illness by creating solidarity among those who are in pain and to educate the mentally well on the amount and extent of the suffering of those who are, often, cruelly misunderstood.

It is normal for individuals to fear what they do not understand.  Many people shy away from what they fear.  Therefore, those who suffer from severe, chronic mental illness often find themselves on the outside looking in.  There is an exaggerated expectation that people who suffer from bipolar disorder or depression or schizophrenia will lash out unprovoked and unexpectedly and cause catastrophic harm to others.

In truth, in research published by the American Psychological Association it was disclosed that only 7.5% of criminal activity was found to have a direct connection to mental illness. When actions related to crime were calculated in terms of directly related and mostly related to mental illness, this number jumped to %18 or one in five.   Symptoms of mental illness are not responsible for the preponderance of  illegal deeds.  There are other factors to consider, such as upbringing, poverty and substance abuse. 

Finding affordable, skilled treatment for those with mental illness is a challenge.  Therefore, it is of great benefit to those who are suffering to have the opportunity to obtain support and informed advice from support groups such as My Broken Palace and Dignity Revolution, as well as Project Semicolon. There has been a proliferation of these groups in recent years.

When wards in psychiatric hospitals were closed in the 1980’s they were to be replaced by community mental health clinics.  This plan never matured and the result was a marked increase in homelessness, which was easily observed, because many who were chronically mentally ill had nowhere to go.

The appearance of those who had previously been hidden from sight was offensive to many.  The fact that people who, at one time, had received medication on a regulated schedule and were now on their own, created an increase in symptomatology such as manic makeup, poor hygiene, and verbal and visual hallucinations. It was now out in the open for all to see.  The possibility of becoming homeless became a fearful reality that many, who were born after the Great Depression, had never considered a possibility

Heather Parrie wrote a blog about her semicolon tattoo on June 18 of this year.  She expected that maybe 100 people would read what she had to say.  It turns out that 7 million people have read and many have begun to use her words as a reference point when their world has gone wrong.

Perhaps the time has come for a greater understanding and empathy for those who have felt lost and hopeless; for those who believed they could never again experience joy.  

The Semicolon Tattoo In Action

The semicolon serves as a metaphor for pain endured; of life almost lost; of courage in the face of defeat.  It is a simple symbol that serves as a reminder of strength.  The semicolon is a visible representation of fortitude, of the ability to survive and even thrive after the most terrible of emotional storms.

It appears that the time to show benevolence is now.  The time to learn about that which is feared is now.  The time to acknowledge shared humanity is now.  In the words of Rabbi Hillel the Elder, “If not now, when?”   


Ahmed, N. (n.d.). Why People Fear Mental Illness. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

Carroll, H. (2015, July 8). The Semicolon Tattoo, More than a Trend. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

Duncan, S. (2015, July 8). The Inspiring Reasons People are Getting Semicolon Tattoos. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

Parrie, H. (2015, June 18). The Semicolon Project. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

Peterson, J. (2014, April 21). Mental Illness Not Usually Linked to Crimes, Research Finds. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

Steyer, C. (2015, July 7). Global Semicolon Tattoo Trend Is A Sign Of Strength Among Faithful Individuals Dealing With Mental Health Problems. Retrieved July 9, 2015.

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

A practical approach to problems encountered in daily life. A confidential and comfortable atmosphere in which we will use humor to help you gain perspective on current concerns. Enhance your skills for creative problem solving.

Ruth Gordon has a clinical practice in Naples, FL

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