Although there have been significant efforts to raise awareness
of mental illness, it's no secret that the
stigma associated with mental illness has harmful effects that
range from reluctance to seek help or medical treatment, to lack of
understanding even from family members and close friends, to the
belief that the situation will never get better and is helpless. It
is this stigma that makes talking about mental illness so
difficult--for both those with mental illness and those in their
For some people, being diagnosed with a mental illness is the
beginning of the end. It may be seen as the end of a "normal" life
and the start of a life where this unfortunate label precedes you
everywhere you go. For a long time, this way of thinking was the
norm. But slowly, this mentality is beginning to shift.
Understanding of mental illness, which incorporates a vast array of
general anxiety disorder to
schizophrenia, is growing among the medical, legal, and
educational communities and the general population. The
conversation is taking a different turn. Now, many people with
mental illness are starting to speak up about their struggle or the
struggle of someone they love. One such example is Amy Bleuel,
founder and president of Project Semicolon.
Project Semicolon encourages people to tattoo or draw a
semicolon on their body to support mental health awareness or
represent the loss of someone to mental illness. Bleuel's goal is
to start a conversation that doesn't (that can't, she says) stop.
Taking the metaphor a step further, the semicolon represents a
sentence that the author could have been stopped but didn't; one
the author chose to continue in a unique way.
According to Project Semicolon's website, "Project Semicolon is
a global faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting
hope and love to those who are struggling
with depression, suicide, addiction and
self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and
inspire." Bleuel started the project in April 2013 in honor of her
father, who committed suicide.
In the two and a half years since the project's launch, the
semicolon tattoos have become a way for people with mental illness
to tell their stories and see that they are not alone in their
struggle. The project has started a conversation that is literally
saving the lives of people who once felt they had to suffer in
silence. Some health communication campaigns are big and bold and
aim to change behavior and shake things up. Campaigns like Project
Semicolon are less flashy and boisterous and instead aim for a
ripple effect that goes on and on and ultimately reaches more
people in a far more intimate way.
To learn more about Project Semicolon or join the conversation,
Semicolon on Facebook and follow the project on
If you or a loved one is at risk for suicide, call 911, your
local authorities, a mental health professional, or speak
confidentially to a trained counselor for free at the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255.
A version of this post originally appeared on
HealthComU on September 28, 2015.