Why a Semicolon Tattoo Is the Most Beautiful Tattoo

Why a Semicolon Tattoo Is the Most Beautiful Tattoo

Grammar pedants have long known that punctuation is everything. And even casual language buffs can tell you that commas save lives (surely you’ve seen the ‘Let’s eat Grandma’ vs. ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’ meme). But to thousands who may have never thought twice about a dangling modifier or a misplaced appositive, the semicolon has become their reason for enduring.

Thanks to Amy Bleuel, the often misunderstood symbol has morphed from a simple punctuation mark to a badge of pride for those who struggle with depression, suicide, addiction, anxiety, and self-injury.

Bleuel started the nonprofit movement Project Semicolon in April 2013 to honor her father, who took his own life, and to give voice to her own fight with mental illness. The idea was to encourage anyone haunted by these demons to draw a semicolon on their body, photograph it, and share it on a given day to encourage love and to inspire.

“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,” explains Project Semicolon’s website.

Since its inception, Project Semicolon has transformed from a once-off social media initiative into a full-fledged movement and awareness campaign for mental health and suicide prevention. And just as a once-fleeting call-to-action has given way to this more permanent form of activism, people have exchanged the Sharpies that Bleuel initially suggested for permanent ink.

Semicolon tattoos are cropping up everywhere: on wrists, behind ears, above ankle bones, and more. And with them, an outpouring of heartfelt stories, grassroots tattoo-a-thons, and even a fully devoted charity organization called The Semicolon Tattoo Project (TSTP) have followed.

“In a society that often tries to hide mental health issues, we want to push back and show that the more we talk about it, the more people get help,” says TSTP.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 2014 Behavioral Health Barometer, over 13 million Americans struggled with a serious mental illness, 9.3 million seriously thought about committing suicide, and 17.3 million were dependent on alcohol in 2013.

Even more alarming, though, is the fact that nearly thirty-two percent of people diagnosed with a serious mental illness did not receive treatment in that same year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many don’t seek proper diagnosis and help because of the stigma attached to this kind of illness.

And that’s exactly what the semicolon tattoo is working to change.

Just as the mark is a sign for readers to pause before continuing on with a sentence, participants have embraced the symbol as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet—and that they should tell it.

Look at the TSTP Facebook page and you’ll find countless people sharing tales of survival and struggle. These brave, honest accounts have started to bring a community together and endow members with the kind of pride that is capable of breaking down stigma.

What’s more, the tattoo has encouraged people to demand recognition for and discussion about illnesses that often skate by under the radar because they are invisible.

Ink has always been a conversation starter, and the semicolon emblem is no different. It’s an opportunity for survivors, those who battle every day, and even supporters to talk to those unacquainted with mental health issues. And as TSTP points out, “The more we talk about it, the more people get the help they need when they need it.”

So, in an age when many of us spend more time tweeting than talking, let alone doing, the semicolon tattoo might just be the most beautiful thing we’ve learned about in a long time (and, yes, we would believe this even if we weren’t such devout grammarians).

If you want to be part of the movement but don’t want to get a tattoo, why not start by sharing this story via your social media channels?

Stephanie Katz is a San Francisco–based writer who, contrary to the way it may seem, won’t correct your grammar over beers, coffees, or any other normal life interaction. She tells stories about health, history, travel, and more, and can be contacted via email at stekatz@gmail.com.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
Want more good reads?

Get the best stories delivered to you each week.

  • Thoren Spearow

    Can’t tell you how much inspiration this symbol brings. To those whom have never experienced the deep miserable darkness of depression and thoughts of suicide, you will likely not understand. For the rest of us, however, these simple words can be a place to start a discussion that is saving lives and dishing up hope daily.


  • Deplorable_ME

    Thank you. this gave me understand and empathy – as I have noticed the tattoo on people I care about and now I can reach out with understanding and appreciation for what it represents.

  • Eric Burgess

    Well-played with this fantastically written article for SEO purposes. 😉

  • Inder Boyz
  • Jeff Armitage

    I saw someone with a Semicolon Tattoo today and told her that liked it, she was grateful that I noticed it. I have bi-Polar disorder and I am going to get one my self. I have no problem talking to people about this illness, and my life trying to live with it. In 2013 my wife commuted suicide. She was only 22 years old. This has changed my life greatly, I have tried to take my life 3 times, I never thought about anyone but myself. But now I see things in a different light. I Do not want to hurt anyone else. I do not want to leave my son with this burden.


Your writing, at its best
Why not make your writing mistake-free across the web?
Get Grammarly It’s free
Blog Updates
Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.
Want more good reads?

Get the best stories delivered to you each week.

Embed Code

Copy code below to embed this post to your site.