Semicolon tattoos aren’t a necessarily new concept. Plenty of grammar aficionados and lovers of literature have had their favorite punctuation mark permanently inked on themselves over the years.
These days, semicolon tattoos are now becoming more popular than ever before for another reason: to raise awareness of mental illness.
According to a July 9 USA Today article, Project Semicolon, a mental health awareness campaign, is the impetus behind this new trend in semicolon tattoos.
Amy Bleuel, the organization’s founder, said she came up with the idea for Project Semicolon as a way to pay tribute to her father, who committed suicide in 2003. She launched the campaign a decade later, in 2013.
Because the semicolon indicates a pause in a sentence rather than the end of one, Bleuel said she hopes these semicolons will begin a conversation about mental illness that will continue into the future. The semicolon is also intended to encourage others to share their stories of struggling with mental illness and inspire them to keep going in life.
“I wanted to tell my story to inspire others to tell their story. I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped, a conversation about mental illness and suicide so we can address it and lower those rates,” she said.
While tattoos are increasingly common — more than 20% of American adults have at least one of them — Project Semicolon doesn’t require you to get one. The semicolons can be simply drawn on in ink, if one chooses. To participate in Project Semicolon, all one has to do is post a photo of their tattoo or drawing on social media and use the hashtag #projectsemicolon or #semicolonproject.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 41,149 reported suicides in 2013 alone. By showing people they don’t have to end their stories, Bleuel told USA Today she hopes Project Semicolon will change these figures.
“It’s impacted people who struggle with self-harm, addiction and suicide, as well as people who have lost people from suicide and addiction,” Bleuel said. “It’s attracted everyone.”