A tattoo to memorialize your victories over episodes of depression can be a positive reminder of what you’ve overcome.

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Living with depression can change your life, but that’s normal — no one’s road is straight and smooth.

You might have withstood dark days or the loss of a job or relationship. Perhaps hobbies you once enjoyed suddenly lost their appeal.

Depression can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being, and it can strain your closest relationships. But take heart: If you’re reading this, then you’ve endured depression and persisted — and that deserves recognition.

While getting a permanent tattoo carries some risks, for those who’ve tested ink on a small inconspicuous area and had no reaction, it could be a meaningful way to memorialize your response to depression.

Getting a tattoo having to do with your depression can serve as a public declaration, or personal reminder, of what you’ve overcome.

When you’ve met a challenge head-on, there’s often an immense sense of accomplishment when you see a positive outcome. It can be natural to want a tattoo to commemorate the event.

You may have decided on a depression tattoo to show your support for others who live with the condition. The semicolon tattoo, for example, is known to symbolize unity among those living with mental health challenges. (It represents a continuation — not an end to — your sentence, or your story.)

For some people, however, depression tattoos may be part of the impulsivity that sometimes accompanies depression.

“It is not unusual when someone is depressed that decision making and impulsivity go hand in hand,” explains Dr. Betsy Greenleaf, a woman’s wellness expert in Howell Township, New Jersey.

However, a 2016 study out of Europe found that tattooed individuals are only slightly more impulsive than their un-inked counterparts.

Are tattoos bad for mental health?

“Tattoos, like a lot of other things, are not inherently bad for anyone’s mental health,” says Counselor Brittany Morris, with Thriveworks in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Morris adds that tattoos can serve as a powerful reminder if you’ve succeeded despite adversity or obstacles related to your journey with depression.

Research supports the positive effects of tattoos on mental health:

  • In 2017, a small study found tattoos were often seen as a way for people to express their individuality.
  • Polling results two years later indicated 92% of people with a tattoo were happy with their body art.
  • An earlier study from 2011 found getting a tattoo was linked to improved body appreciation and self-esteem, and a reduction in appearance anxiety.

Potential ways tattoos can positively impact mental health include:

  • demonstrating a sense of commitment
  • encouraging camaraderie with others living with depression
  • increasing awareness about mental health
  • providing a means of self-expression and individuality
  • boosting self-esteem and body image
  • helping with the grieving process
  • offering an outlet for emotional expression
  • creating empowerment and a sense of pride

Selecting a depression tattoo that symbolizes your experience is no small task. What you’ve accomplished is unique to you, as are your art and symbolism preferences.

You may be an animal lover and want your tattoo to reflect that. Maybe you’re a fan of mythology, and you want your experience depicted in an epic battle of the Roman gods.

If you need help coming up with a depression tattoo that best represents you, there are some common themes that might help.

Animal tattoo to represent depression

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Any animal can represent your experience living with depression. Many people choose to get a depression tattoo of an animal they relate to or feel represents their inner strength.

Symbolic tattoo representing depression

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Many different images can convey a sense of mental strength in the face of your challenges. A common representation of this is the rising phoenix.

Something secret only you will understand

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Your depression tattoo is ultimately there for you. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.

Choosing something that has meaning can be your intimate totem of what you’ve overcome.

The choice to get a tattoo may not always come from a positive place.

“Many things can be used in an unhealthy way to cope. If someone is getting tattoos that remind them of things that are painful, it could become an unhealthy reminder of the past,” cautions Morris.

You may also get a tattoo that doesn’t turn out how you wanted or results in a health complication.

If you can’t fix it or are physically scarred from the experience, you might develop feelings of shame or embarrassment.

Sometimes, multiple tattoos are part of a larger pleasure-seeking compulsion to cope with the effects of depression.

“Now some people become addicted to getting tattoos, but more from the act of getting a tattoo, which can cause a release of endorphins in response to the pain from the needling,” says Greenleaf.

She adds that feelings of depression return after the initial sense of euphoria wanes.

“Finding natural ways to increase endorphins through exercise is a much better option than getting a tattoo whenever one feels down,” says Greenleaf.

I got one I regret during a depressive episode. What now?

If you regret getting a depression tattoo, removal is possible through:

  • chemical peels
  • laser treatments
  • dermabrasion
  • surgical excision

If you still want a tattoo, there’s also the option of having the original covered with a new design.

Greenleaf offers, “I think the best advice is that anything done impulsively tends to have a higher risk of regret. If getting a tattoo is the direction you’re heading, sit on the decision for at least 24 hours.”

Life hack

For a decision such as whether to get a tattoo, you may want to try these practical approaches before making the milestone decision:

  1. If you do manage a mental health condition, it’s advisable to wait a few weeks after a depressive, manic, or other episode subsides before taking action.
  2. You can also try printing out your concept and placing it around your home somewhere visible. If you’re still enthusiastic about looking at it as you experience different moods (and after the above waiting period) then you could proceed.
Was this helpful?

If you’re a tattoo lover or have long waited for a milestone worthy of permanent ink, this could mean a depression tattoo is in your future.

Before making the decision, you may want to vet your reasons for visiting the tattoo parlor and ensure your skin is compatible with needling.

If your tattoo is going to remind you of more negative memories than positive ones, maybe it’s not yet time to make the commitment.

Living through depression and emerging with a positive outlook can be worth commemorating, either with a tattoo or another hallmark.