The Meaning Of A Semicolon Tattoo, Explained

Not too long ago, mental health and addiction issues were simply not discussed. Instead, hushed tones, vague wording, and outright denial were the norms when it came to talking about stigmatized issues like suicidal tendencies, depression, and other serious problems. Thankfully, the tide has turned in recent years, and more and more people are being candid about their ongoing struggles. This not only helps to facilitate conversations about mental health and addiction but also provides much-needed validation to others dealing with similar issues. 

One creative way for people to connect over mental health is the semicolon tattoo, which is exactly what it sounds like — a tattoo of a semicolon. The punctuation mark tat is generally, but not always, small and in a somewhat inconspicuous spot on the body. According to, the ink "is used as a message of affirmation and solidarity with those who have dealt with suicide, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues."

Here's how the semicolon tattoo became a worldwide symbol

The credit for the semicolon tattoo becoming a worldwide symbol of mental health solidarity goes to Amy Bleuel, who first suggested it back in 2013 as a means of coping with her father's suicide. At the time, per Project Semicolon, she wasn't going for tattoos, however. Instead, she suggested that people who'd had trouble with mental illness simply draw a semicolon on their wrist, and then put a photo of the gesture on social media. "A semicolon symbolized that a sentence wasn't over yet, and neither was their life," says the organization. 

This is indeed a poignant statement since suicide is an ever-prevalent problem for people of all ages. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021 alone, 1.7 million American adults attempted suicide and 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt. A whopping 12.3 million seriously considered ending their own lives. Even though they didn't go through with a suicide plan, this number speaks to the immense pain that people are suffering all around us, often silently. Even the well-intentioned Bleuel continued to struggle and sadly died by suicide in 2017.

Semicolon tattoos can inspire real conversation

Often understated in size, the intention of semicolon tattoos is to inspire people going through various mental health struggles they continue to fight, rather than end the metaphorical sentence. As anyone knows who deals with addiction or mental health problems, these issues are often long-term, even lifelong in nature. This is why it's so important for people to be able to identify mental health warning signs in their loved ones.

The semicolon tattoo gained a significant amount of attention in 2017 when the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" debuted. The controversial show centered around a high schooler who died by suicide, and multiple people associated with the program got semicolon tattoos to acknowledge their mental health struggles or those of people close to them. Many people who get semicolon tattoos are fine with swapping stories about their struggles. However, it's important to remember that mental health diagnoses are often difficult and triggering to discuss. So if you notice someone with a semicolon tattoo and feel comfortable remarking on it, be sure to "read the room" and gauge whether or not the person seems to want to talk about it.

If you or anyone you know needs help with mental health or suicide issues, contact the relevant resources below: