35 Tattoos That Give Us Hope for Mental Health Recovery

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Because our mental health is always with us — and because tattoos can be a permanent reminder of where we’ve been and where we want to go — we asked our Mighty community to send pictures of their ink inspired by mental health challenges.

If you think the tattoos are amazing, the stories behind them are even better.

Take a look:

1. “This is to remind me that it’s not my fault. Seratonin is lacking in my brain. We are all warriors in this fight against mental illness.” — Paige Johnson

Woman with serotonin chemical formula tattoo on back
photo via Paige Johnson

2. “It’s the eating disorder recovery symbol [the official logo of the National Eating Disorders Association].” — Brooke Ainsley

Eating disorder recovery symbol on wrist
photo via Brooke Ainsley

3.Tattoos are so important to my mental health. They’re how I give myself reminders I wouldn’t believe otherwise. I chose to leave that mark there, to leave a moment of hope on myself. I don’t trust hope when it comes from other people, so the self-direction and permanence of tattoos goes a long way.” — Olivia James

Tattoo on forearm
photo via Olivia James

4.I’m not an expert on pain and I’m not an expert on healing, but I do know this: Both are part of life.” — Alyse Ruriani

The words "past" and "future" written on two wrists
photo via Alyse Ruriani

5. “‘Stars can’t shine without the darkness.’ Even when things in my head aren’t OK, it won’t be dark for long because I’m a shining star in my own right.”  — Erica Marie

Tattoo that says "stars can't shine without the darkness"
photo via Erica Marie

6. “I’ll never give up, I’m a fighter.” — Jenna Pleasants

Tattoo that says "I'll never give up, I'm a fighter."
photo via Jenna Pleasants

7. “This is the tattoo I’m proudest of.” — Kris Lindsey

Tattoo that says "; not ended" on wrist
photo via Kris Lindsey

8. “Pi, a mathematical constant, reminds me that even when my world feels like it’s falling apart, there’s still a constant in the world. The semicolon reminds me I need to keep going even when I don’t feel like I can or don’t want to. A Bible verse reminds me of the big picture I sometimes fail to see when I’m depressed.” — Julianne Leow

Tattoos of the Pi symbol, a semi-colon and Rom 8:31 on forearm
temporary tattoo — photo via Julianne Leow

9. “Ataraxia — it means ‘tranquility of the mind.’” — Jacklyn Ashley

Tattoo of the word "ataraxia" written on wrist
photo via jacklyn.lune

10. “Covering a scar. My reminder that no matter how deep the depression gets, I have reasons for my heart to keep beating” — Courtney Bowles

Tattoo of a red heart next to a heartbeat line
photo via Courtney Bowles

11. “The bottom tattoo is for eating disorder recovery. I survived anorexia when I was 14. The top tattoo is for my struggle and recovery from postpartum mental illness. It tried to take my life, but I’m still here and now I’m full of joy and thriving!” — Alicia Nelsen

Tattoo of a bird next to a banner that says "I loved you at your darkest"
photo via Alicia Nelsen

12. “Reminds me that my post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks and all the pain are in the past. And my story is just beginning.” — Kimberly Elizabeth King

Tattoo on forearm that says, "What's Past is...Prologue" and an arrow underneath
photo via Kimberly Elizabeth King

13. “I have post-traumatic stress disorder, severe general and social anxiety disorders and chronic severe depression. I also have a brain injury. The trauma started at 7 and went until I was 33. I have this to remind me that my heart is still beating and my stars light my way. I’m never without love, even alone.” — Kimberlea Halliwell

Tattoo of a purple heart surrounded by light purple and blue stars
photo via Kimberlea Halliwell

14. “My husband got this tattoo for me to show his support for my mental illness. I have bipolar 2, generalized and social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.” — Jennifer Rushton

Tattoo that says "Stay Strong ; My Love"
photo via Jennifer Rushton

15. “A reminder to love yourself as much as you love others.” — Tiffany Davidson

A tattoo of the word "Love"
photo via Tiffany Davidson

16. “I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression. This tattoo represents the song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley. It helps put life into perspective.” — Sarah Gilbert

A tattoo of three birds on a wrist
photo via Sarah Gilbert

17. “This hummingbird was tattooed shortly after three months of hospitalization for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. It reminds me that it’s OK to fly. (And this is my PTSD service dog I received shortly after!)” — Kerri Symes

A tattoo of a hummingbird on a woman's arm
photo via Kerri Symes

18. “My husband’s bipolar tattoo.” — Alicia Branley

A tattoo of two characters, one red and one blue
photo via Alicia Branley

19. “A line from the ‘Firefly’ theme song, reminding me that ‘they’ (bipolar, anxiety, etc.) cannot keep me forever and one day I will be free to fly.” — Kal Gibbs Winters

A tattoo of the words, "I don't care, I'm still free. You can't take the sky away from me."
photo via Kal Gibbs Winters

20. “My sister and I got matching tattoos last year – a combination of a semicolon and a butterfly with our fingerprints as the wings, representing both of our struggles with depression as well as many people we both know who have various mental health problems.” — Rachel Dillon

A tattoo of a combination of a semicolon and a butterfly with fingerprints as the wings
photo via Rachel Dillon

21. “It says strength from one direction; when you look at it upside down it says serenity.” — Becky Brainard

A tattoo that reads "strength" one way and "serenity" the other way
photo via Becky Brainard

22. “This one is a quote by Barbara J Winter: ‘When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’ ” — Jesus Arroyo

A tattoo of a quote by Barbara J. Winter that says "When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly."
photo via Jesus Arroyo

23. “I’ve always been drawn to butterflies. And when I was going through difficult times, my mom reminder me of ‘the butterfly effect’ — one flap make a huge difference. My mantra became ‘flap flap.’” –Shelley Field

A tattoo of an illustration of a butter fly with Chloe written underneath
photo via Shelley Field

24. “Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with major depression. In honor of that anniversary, I got my first tattoo. H.O.P.E. stands for: Hold On Pain Ends. The semicolon means my story is not over.”  — Kristin Lynn

A tattoo of the word "H.o.p.e;"
photo via Kristin Lynn

25. “I had postpartum anxiety and OCD after my son, and after overcoming it I got this tattoo in honor of the semicolon project! That I chose to continue my sentence instead of end it.” — Ethan Lexie Clouse

A tattoo of a semi-colon on a wrist
photo via Ethan Lexie Clouse

26. “Recurrent major depression and anxiety. I got this after my first hospitalization. It’s my way of owning it rather than feeling shame.” — Tasha Moreno

A tattoo of Mr. Peanut and the words "Nucking Futs" above it
photo via Tasha Moreno

27. “This tattoo represents my emotions during my worst time here on Earth. I was dealing with manic depressive disorder without treatment. I had no idea how to handle it. During rehab I had to participate in group art therapy. I was told to draw the emotions I felt in my heart. Red for anger, grey for sadness, blue for sorrow, green for hope and lastly yellow for happiness. I kept my drawing and one year later, I had it tattooed on me to remind how I never want my heart broken in that many pieces again. Every glimpse sends chills down my spine and a big smile on my face knowing I’m better off and loving who I am now.” — BrookeTaylor St. Louis

A tattoo made of the colors gray, red, blue, green and yellow
photo via BrookeTaylor St. Louis

28. “Tattoo for my son who has OCD, anxiety, ASD and Tourette’s. His favorite animal is an elephant because they may be huge, but they’re gentle.” — Christy Vogel

A tattoo of a gray elephant holding a blue heart-shaped balloon with its trunk
photo via Christy Vogel

29. “My phoenix feather rising from the ashes.” — Siân Couch

A tattoo of a phoenix feather
photo via Siân Couch

30. “Celtic sun, inspired by depression and seasonal affective disorder.” — Cherice Marie

A tattoo of a Celtic sun
photo via Cherice Marie

31. “My brother had schizophrenia. He passed away 13 years ago at age 22. He taught me so much about acceptance, tolerance, patience and unconditional love.” — Krista Dietsch Furgala

A tattoo of the name "Adam"
photo via Krista Dietsch Furgala

32. “‘Stay strong beautiful, things will get better. It may be stormy now but it can’t rain forever.’” — Beth Ann Baker

A tattoo of illustrations of a happy sun and sad rain cloud with the word, "Stay strong beautiful. Things will get better, It may be stormy now, but it can't rain forever"
photo via Beth Ann Baker

33. “I got this to remember myself that even though today may be a bad day, I still have hope.” — Hannah Helmers

Woman with the word "Hope" written on her upper arm
photo via Hannah Helmers

34. “I suffer from reoccurring and resistant depression and anxiety. I got this tattoo, an angel symbol that means ‘choose life,’ to remind me not to listen to or act on suicidal thoughts. I can’t control the negative voices in my head, but I can choose not to listen to them.” — Cheryl Joyce

A tattoo of an angel symbol that means "choose life"
photo via Cheryl Joyce

35. “I had this done just after I had the lightbulb moment that inspired me to recover.” — Natice Aimee Duncan

A tattoo of the words "I looked in the mirror, & Decided to stay" on a forearm
photo via Natice Aimee Duncan

*Some responses have been edited and shortened for brevity

Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, 36 tattoos were listed.

35 Tattoos That Give Us Hope For Mental Health Recovery
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To the Couple in Line at CVS Who Saved My Life Without Knowing It

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You didn’t know me, and I highly doubt you even remember me at this point, but I will remember you for a long time.

I suffer from, among other things Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It stems from events I’ve experienced while living on the streets homeless as well as events that happened in my childhood. A symptom of my PTSD is anxiety, very bad anxiety, especially in unstable family situations. For the past five days before meeting you in line, I was a patient in a psychiatric unit. I’d been experiencing flashbacks and extreme anxiety and wanted to hurt myself. To guarantee my own safety, I had myself admitted.

I completed my treatment at the hospital, and I figured I would just go home until my already scheduled intake at the county mental health center. My plans didn’t quite go as expected. My living circumstances suddenly changed, I had no resources, and no one could help me other then to direct me to an anxiety-inducing shelter. I was ready to give everything up. I started making my way to the CVS to fill my scripts and take them all.

A friend offered me a room at in her house in Wisconsin, but I had to figure out how to get 13 miles across the bridge from New Jersey to Philadelphia to catch the bus the next day.

Wait. Next day? What am I supposed to do tonight?

How was I supposed to get to Philadelphia? I felt done. I had the perfect chance to make things right in a new state, but it was just out of reach. “That’s it,” I said to myself. Of course, you didn’t know all this from standing in from of me at the pharmacy counter.

You dropped off your prescriptions and sat down to wait, then I did the same. My friend called while I was sitting there to tell me she could get me a bus ticket tonight; I just had to find a way to Philadelphia.

Normally I would object to people listening in on my phone conversations, but this time I’ll make an exception. I don’t know what inspired you to offer me, a complete stranger, a ride to the bus station, but you did.

I’ve been through pitfalls and black holes and haven’t found a lot of people who would be able to help me, but you, a person who didn’t know me, offered a space in your car to get across the bridge.

I just want to say thank you. You saved my life that day.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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14 Things I Didn't Expect to Learn at a Psychiatric Hospital

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Last December, I began my nine-month journey in a psychiatric unit. I gained a lot of knowledge over those nine months, but not everything I learned is what you might expect. The end goal was to gain skills to help us cope in the “real world,” but I didn’t realize in the beginning how much would go into it.

Here are some of the unexpected things I took away from my experience:

1. I could laugh. I laughed from my belly, and it was an honest laugh that gave me a small, yet real, glimmer of hope.

2. The friendships I made were unlike any other — I don’t think I could recreate them if I tried.

3. Being honest and open with staff led to priceless moments, like when a one-on-one shower turned into a “Frozen” singalong.

4. Therapy isn’t a walk in the park. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

5. The value of a cup of tea is greater than you might think.

6. Weird talents and funny stories will not stay hidden for long! Believe me, they all came out at some point.

7. I had to commit myself to getting better. I had to do it for myself. I was giving myself a chance to live and have a future.

8. Therapy balls aren’t just for at home gym sessions. Bouncing up and down, sliding across the room and balancing on them could lift my mood — who knew?

9. Without texting and social media I discovered the joys of phone calls and letter writing. It’s a simple and much more personal ways of keeping in touch.

10. Never underestimate a multiplayer game.

11. If you leave for a day and come back with a new top, hair color or socks, get ready to get more compliments than you’ve ever had in your whole life.

12. Good quotes spread like wildfire.

13. I’m a hell of a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for.

14. When I left the hospital I wasn’t fully recovered — but I was so much closer than the day I went in.

Follow this journey on Swimming Through the Willow Tree

The Mighty wants to hear about your experiences in psychiatric hospitals. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the People Who Think I Should Be Ashamed of My Mental Illness

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I used to feel ashamed of my mental health condition.

Now, I refuse to let stigma and stereotypes dictate how I feel about myself.

If you stigmatize me, that’s your ignorance, not my truth. Stigma is dated, cruel and just plain wrong.

 

People with mental illnesses are not less-than. They are not damaged. They are not what you see on TV, the news or in movies. They are people: brothers, mothers, fathers and daughters. They are valuable, vibrant, brilliant members of your community. They are one in four people, not some freaky monster you’ve never met.

woman with a mental illness

I have an awesome, successful, happy life. I also have a mental health condition. Big deal. Get over it. Just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m broken.

Shame is toxic to the human spirit. I’ve let it go and replaced it with pride and acceptance. You can shame me all you want and have a big ol’ shame party, but it’s my choice whether or not I attend. (I’m always busy with better, more important things to do than sit with shame.) Shaming yourself and others is exhausting — I’ll be by the pool with joy and acceptance if you want to join us.

So, get educated about mental illness and come over to the cool side. Here are five reasons why I refuse to be ashamed:

1. It’s not my fault. 

I didn’t choose this. It’s not a character flaw or a negative personality trait. I’m not guilty of something. I don’t have a mental health condition because I’m weak, don’t try hard enough, don’t have enough willpower, eat too many donuts, like the attention or haven’t read enough “Oprah.” It’s my brain being my brain.

For the record, though, I eat healthy, and I’ve read a lot of “Oprah.”

Depression is extremely different from normal sadness. Anxiety is not “just worrying.” People who have mental health conditions can’t just snap out of it. Know the facts.

2. My brain is actually awesome.

I’ve grown to love my brain. Yeah, I have anxiety — I’m a human sponge for everyone’s feelings and so sensitive I’ll cry during a Cheerios commercial. But the ability to feel so much is also a gift. I have an extraordinary amount of empathy. Where my brain might lack, it makes up for in creativity.  I’d rather trudge through mud and then dance in seas of glittery stars than walk on flat, easy road all the time. It’s who I am, and I’m learning to appreciate the mud.

3. Everyone’s mind is different. 

No one thinks about unicorns skipping on rainbows all day. People with mental health conditions are not super strange aliens from a far off galaxy. We all have problems and struggles in life. No one is perfect. No one has a unicorn mind all the time.

4. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and now I can help others. 

It takes a lot of bravery to get help for a mental health condition and stick with treatment. It takes a lot strength to tell your story for the millionth time, advocate for yourself when your care is crappy, try a bunch of medicines until you find the right one, put up with everyone telling you what you should do, have your claims denied by insurance companies and feel like you’re being treated like a child when you have a master’s degree.

People say hope is right in front of you, but depression is a blindfold. It takes so much strength to keep searching in the dark.

Recovery is sort of like making an huge collage. You’re always looking, finding and pasting things that help you. But it’s a constant project that takes a lot of energy and willpower. I’m proud that I’m speaking out (not an easy decision) and trying to help others as we build our collages together.

5.  My pain has become my power. 

I’m not ashamed of my pain. I think it’s made me a more compassionate person. It’s given me wisdom and inspiration. I believe pain can be like a question mark, asking us, “What will you do with me? Destruct or create?” It’s energy we can transform and put to use. It becomes our power. It becomes our flashlight to hand to others who are still tripping in the darkness. When we break down and lose everything, we can also rebuild into stronger, wiser and more beautiful versions of ourselves. I believe this pain can be an asset.

What are you proud of? I challenge you to join me and let shame go.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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To the Man Who Saved My Life With One Sentence

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Around one year ago today, I made an impulsive decision. I tried for the second time to take my own life. This was back before I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, so my untreated psychotic symptoms were making getting through the day seem impossible.

My first suicide attempt had been in a psychiatric hospital. This one was different.

It was premeditated. I wrote a note. I lay down and after about 20 minutes, I began to have trouble breathing.

That’s when I realized it. This was serious. I was going to die. 

So I called the paramedics.

Before they reached me, a public safety officer responded to my call. Scott, who I had met with many times, came into my dorm room to find me half-unconscious and on the floor, a suicide note grasped in my fist. This wasn’t the first time Scott had responded to one of my mental health crises — in fact, during my time in college, he had responded to every single one. He had driven me to the emergency department during all crises that didn’t involve the paramedics.

“What did you do?” he asked me. His voice was shaking so badly he could barely speak. He called poison control. I heard him ask desperately into the phone if I was going to live. Poison control told Scott to engage with me and to not let me fall asleep.

Scott was crying. He sat down on the floor with me. Talking with me, giving me reasons to hold on. I heard the ambulance from what must have been a mile away. When they arrived they loaded me onto a stretcher. Scott held my hand as I was rushed into the back of the rescue vehicle.

Then, as I was being loaded into the ambulance, he told me something that would empower me to make it through every depressive episode, and legitimize every time I asked for help.

“We’re all going be here to see you graduate,” he said, gripping my hand, “You’ll learn to live with this. Get better so we can see you walk across that stage.”

I was only a sophomore, but he had faith in me. He had faith that I would put this illness behind me. That I would learn to live with it and thrive.

Now, this is what I want him to know:

Dear Scott,

Put simply, you saved my life. You’ve been the only person, after 10 years in mental health treatment, who has told me something that resonated deeply enough to save my life. My treatment has mostly been a lot of breathing exercises, dialectical behavior therapy, crises plans, medication and a lot of doctors visits. But the salvation you’ve given me was a simple one. You gave me a foundation to believe in myself.

You see Scott, we got to know each other in a different way. You know me through late-night conversations in the front of a police cruiser, my symptoms and what my crises look like. You know about my battles and how after 10 years of preoccupying myself with starvation, self-harm, responsibility, drug abuse and apathy, I thought I wanted to die.

But on the night I really tried, you shocked me out of my fog of self-destruction and into recovery. You saved my life. I will always remember that one sentence. It reached me in ways nothing ever had. No matter how bad my suicidal ideation might get, you managed to prevent me from ever trying again. Your response to what could’ve been the worst decision I had ever made was absolutely perfect. Someday I will walk across that stage, diploma in hand. How great living will be knowing I had tried to die, but chose recovery instead. Every accomplishment after college graduation, I will thank you for saving my life. Every time I kiss my fiance goodnight, every time I make a phone call to my dad, or visit my mom, every time I congratulate my brother on his accomplishments, I will thank you for what you’ve done. And even though you’ve moved away to a new town and have a new job, I hope you know what you did for me that night. Because of you I have a lifetime to love and be loved, I have a lifetime to learn, to experience, to laugh and cry, to smile and feel and taste. I have a lifetime to live and a lifetime to breathe. 

Thank you, Officer Scott. 

Sincerely, the women whose life you saved.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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5 Ways Having a Child With Mental Illness Has Changed Me for the Better

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When we adopted our daughter five years ago, we had no reason to believe medical professionals would eventually tell us they’ve never seen a child with such severe mental illness. She is only 10 years old. Because of her mental illness, our family has experienced trials and suffering like never before. We’ve watched our daughter literally turn into a different person as her mental illness took over. I’ve followed her while she was escorted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital by three security guards. I was bleeding from my encounter with her. This happened only two weeks after she had been hospitalized for the first time. She had a psychotic break in December and in the last year she has spent more time in hospitals and residential placements than she has at home. We have fought with all of our might to help her, and we are different people because of it.

While many people might look at our situation and think that nothing good could come from it, I have found five ways in which loving, caring for and fighting for our daughter has changed me for the better.

1. I am more compassionate.

Not that I wasn’t compassionate before, but this is different. I see people differently. I empathize with them more. I love them more. I understand them more. There is something about going through hard times that helps you see people in a different light. You never know what a person is going through. Sometimes I can see it in their eyes, the exhaustion and the pain, and I have great compassion because I see myself in those eyes.

2. I am an advocate.

This is a role I’ve been thrust into whether I wanted it or not. Our mental health system does not make it easy to help your loved one with mental illness. I’ve had to fight for things, talk to people and share parts of my life I’ve never had to before. I’m learning I’m stronger than I ever thought I was, and that stigma is real. I’m also learning it isn’t enough to get help for my daughter — I hope to pave the way for other families who find themselves in the same situations as we are. We need each other.

3. I’ve learned more about friendship.

I believe there is nothing like the friendship formed between two people who have loved ones with mental illness. I’ve met some amazing people on this journey. I’ve also realized the value of the friends who have stood by our family even though they don’t understand. Through these amazing people, I’ve learned what it really means to be a friend.

4. I’ve learned to ask for help.

Let’s just call it what it is: pride. I never asked for or wanted help, even when I was sinking. I figured I was strong enough and could do it myself. I thought nobody wanted to hear our story because it isn’t roses and rainbows. I thought I was bothering people if I admitted I couldn’t get dinner on the table because I was often dealing with a child in crisis. I was wrong. When I finally admitted that we couldn’t carry this burden alone, we were blessed abundantly by the support and love from people who wanted to help us.

5. I’ve grown in my faith.

I’m a Christian. I love Jesus, but I’ve been angry with God. I’ve doubted Him. I’ve lost trust in Him to do what is best for us. Yet in the midst of our circumstances, I’ve grown and changed. I still struggle, but my faith looks different now. I understand things about who God really is and what he wants with my life. I trust Him in ways I never have before. It’s been hard, and it’s been good.

It took me a long time to be able to see through the pain to the healing, and through the suffering to the joy. It’s what keeps me fighting, learning and growing. She is worth it!

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The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – what do you want others to know about your experiences? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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