13 Mental Health Tattoo Ideas to Inspire Your Next Ink

Honor your healing.

Close up of woman getting an arm tattoo
Photo: Getty Images

Healing emotional wounds through art and creative channels has been helpful to many.

Our desire to use art as a reflection of a personal triumph or transformation has remained since the dawn of time, with many choosing body art in the form of tattoos for a variety of reasons.

"Tattooing in itself is a therapeutic medium to some — myself included," says Jaz Paulino, a tattoo artist at Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlor in Brooklyn, New York. "I have clients who have gone through terrible experiences in their lives that have left both mental and physical marks behind, but, through getting tattooed, they have regained a sense of power within themselves as they cover their (physical and mental) scars with something beautiful."

Beyond the surface, a tattoo can be an outlet to aid in someone's recovery via daily visual reminders and help them become an advocate to promote mental health awareness.

We spoke with professional tattoo artists to get their perspective on the growing trend of commemorating a mental health journey through meaningful tattoos. They shared 13 ideas if you're thinking of getting one.

Be Still

This mindful tattoo highlights the importance — and simplicity — of taking a beat to recollect yourself when you start to spin out. Every glance at your hand serves as a reminder to go back to the basics and just pause.

"These tiny tattoos are really popular," explains Joanna Roman, one of Canada's most sought-after tattoo artists. "But they're small tattoos with big, big meaning."

Semicolon

A semicolon tattoo through the lens of mental health is a symbol of solidarity between those of us who live and struggle with a mental illness or who have lost someone to suicide.

"Semicolons are a very traditional, very popular mental health tattoo and they represent that it's not the end," explains Roman. "People use a semicolon to send the message that their story is still being written."

New Beginnings

Paulino says she once did a tattoo of a burning sage for a client of hers to represent cleansing of the past and the start of new beginnings.

Ability to Change

Butterflies often represent a natural growth and transformation, starting life as a caterpillar then developing into a vibrant, colorful insect with the power and freedom to fly. This shows us that we always have the ability to change and evolve into something greater.

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Growing Pains

"Every flower must grow through dirt." This fine-line cursive script is a gentle reminder that even the most beautiful things in nature struggle before they bloom and flourish.

Florals and Fortitude

floral-tattoo
Crys, Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlor

"I have done a lot of florals on a variety of clients that are indicative of regrowth, strength, and mental fortitude," says Crys, a tattoo artist at Fleur Noire Tattoo.

Climb Your Everest

One of the most common frustrations when coping with a mental illness is the feeling that the struggles are relentless. But this empowering, rugged mountain design finds strength in the struggle and making it to the other side.

"When people overcome their mental health disorder, or even if they're still struggling through it, these permanent reminders are a way of either coping with it or signify getting over it," explains Roman, who has several tattoos on her own body that symbolize challenging situations she's conquered. "Most people have stories behind their tattoos."

Making Waves

Ghinkos is a popular tattoo artist with over 200 thousand followers on Instagram because almost every one of her tattoos tell a deeper story. In an Instagram post, she explains that this crescent moon shape with waves crashing inside is representative of finding peace in the constant changes and movements that are a part of life.

Rise Up

"Tattoos traditionally have been used to grieve or let go of something, or overcoming a struggle," says Roman. "The topic of mental health is becoming less and less taboo, it's not like it once was, and our generation is a lot more open with sharing our struggles with one another because we find so much comfort in numbers, in community."

This "I'll rise up" tattoo reminds us that there's no shame in taking a tumble. So go ahead, try, fail, and rise again.

Keep the Faith

In Catholic tradition, a Rosary is a sacred string of prayer beads that the faithful hold while reciting sets of prayers to receive grace, good fortune, and blessings. A Rosary tattoo around the neck or wrist represents a steadying force of faith and hope in divine purpose in the face of challenges.

Something Beautiful

Paulino says sometimes the therapy of tattoos isn't exactly the design itself but the act of taking of your pain and turning it into something beautiful. "This tattoo I created on a day that was very difficult for me as I had just learned that someone very dear to me had passed away," she says. "And so for my mental health, I channeled that energy and chose to create something beautiful. So whether it's for my mental health as an artist, or for the client, I feel like tattoos, in general, are a great way to pay homage to a time or memory in a way that's therapeutic, challenging and positive."

Miles To Go

This soft, feminine script acknowledges both what has been — moments of pain and struggle — and what is yet to come. It's a reminder to honor life's entire journey by choosing to look ahead and refusing to stay stuck.

Choose Yourself

Don't let anxiety and self-doubt silence your dreams. Quiet the hamster wheel of negative self-talk by replacing the harmful chatter with healthy, confident affirmations "like 'choose yourself.'"

According to Roman, one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is hearing the stories and triumphs of each design.

"Even though [my clients' experiences] may have been emotionally draining, they just want a reminder about what it meant, how it changed them, and maybe broke them down," she says. "But also made them realize what was really important and shift their focus on what they value."

Updated by
Genesis Rivas
Genesis Rivas

Genesis Rivas is a beauty and lifestyle writer for Shape with a love for all things makeup, hair, and skincare — so there isn't a product she's not willing to try. Testing aside, when the Wagner College graduate isn't busy writing the latest trend stories or shooting TikTok videos, you can probably find her dancing or eating her way through the streets of NYC. Find more of her work on InStyle, Real Simple, HelloGiggles, and POPSUGAR. 

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