By Kelly Graham, MSW, RS
When you think of tattoos, you may not relate them to mental health. Tattoos can improve a person’s mental health by providing an outlet, making meaning for them, and helping them to process difficult feelings and thoughts.
People with tattoos get them for a variety of different reasons. Some feel that they make you love your body more because the outside better reflects who you are on the inside. They reflect your memories and experiences because you chose them and decided what you want represented on your skin.
WHO YOU ARE:
A tattoo does not always have a deep meaning; it can be something that you like or something that you identify with. On my back, I have two wolf prints with wolf eyes looking out of them. I chose this because I feel very connected with nature and love wolves. It also looks pretty badass.
I also have my family crest tattoo that shows more of my background and about my family.
After getting each tattoo, I loved my body even more because of how beautiful they were. Just like putting on nice clothes that you like can make you feel good, tattoos can have the same effect; they’re just permanent.
My friend, on the other hand, chose the letters “S A N D” and “W I C H” to be tattooed across his knuckles. Get it? He’s a funny guy, and it’s so him to do something like that just to make other people laugh.
Often people do get tattoos that have an important meaning for them. This can be memorializing somebody important, a challenging time, or a happy event. A tattoo can help people process what they have been through, while also remembering it. When getting a tattoo to remember a loved one, human or not, here or gone, you have a permanent tribute to them on your body so you will never forget them.
I have a dream catcher tattoo with my dog’s paw print in the middle. It will be a nice way to remember him when he is gone so I never forget how he helped me. After being sexually assaulted, I often had a hard time falling asleep. Listening to my dog snoring (sometimes very loudly) and feeling his presence, helped me feel calm and safe so I could fall asleep.
By having a tattoo that reminds you of a challenging time in your life, you can look back and remember what lessons you may have learned and what strength you had to have to survive. A tattoo is a way to acknowledge the past, accepting that it is part of you while being able to get closure and move forward.
But the therapeutic value of getting a tattoo isn’t just that it’s there and you see it all the time. Part of the benefit actually comes with the pain of getting it done. It forces you to be present with the memory of the person or event that was impactful to your life while going through the uncomfortable process of putting needle to skin, forcing you to process strong emotions and thoughts.
REMEMBERING YOUR CHOICES:
Tattoos can also be reminders of important events like a wedding, graduating, or having a child. More commonly, people are getting tattooed wedding bands instead of real ones. This gets rid of the possible annoyance of always having to wear a ring or the worry of losing it, and replaces it with something that can seem more permanent. Having reminders of happy times in your life can increase your mood because you will remember that time and all the positive emotions that it brings.
Tattoos can also help generate awareness. In 2013, “Project Semicolon” was founded to help raise awareness about mental health and to help end the stigma. People from all over the world drew semicolons on themselves and took pictures, while many people got these semicolons tattooed on them. Another movement, was when Lady Gaga performed “Till it Happens to You” at the Academy Awards. Lady Gaga brought 50 survivors of sexual assault on stage with her. During the first rehearsal, all of the survivors, including Lady Gaga, made a pact to get a tattoo. The tattoo is to help survivors of sexual violence feel united, and reclaim their bodies. Many other survivors have gotten the “Fire Rose Unity Survivor” tattoo, to show their solidarity and strength.
While people get tattoos for a variety of reasons, know that they can positively impact your mental health (if you like tattoos). Whether it is helping you grieve, remembering events important to you, raising awareness, or just helping you raise your self-esteem by putting art on your body, tattoos can play a significant role in a person’s life. While tattoos may not be for everyone, those who have them understand just how important, impactful, and great having one can be.
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