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24 Beautiful Tattoos Inspired By Mental Illness

Body art as recovery.

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We asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share tattoos that represent living with mental illness, or help maintain mental health. Here are some of the inspirational responses:


"I got a tattoo of a serotonin molecule, which is the neurotransmitter that regulates happiness, on my right thigh. I have depression, which is caused partially by a lack of serotonin in the brain. I got the tattoo six months (to the day) after a suicide attempt, to commemorate my survival and my continuing recovery. It's on my body permanently, as depression will always be a part of me — but just as this tattoo will look different as I age, so will my mental illness. And it's comforting to know that even if I don't have a lot of serotonin in my brain, I always have some on my body." —Leah Lusyd Doolittle, Facebook


"I used to think being strong meant never faltering — always being there for other people, and never having to ask for help. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with panic disorder after months of crippling panic attacks, sometimes several a day. I had to change my definition of strong. Strong means asking for help. Strong means admitting when you are weak. Several years later, my fight continues. The ellipses remind me there is always more to say. The sentence is never over. Even when all you want is for it to be over, there is more fight in you." —sfeldman26


Gloria Ruiz

"I'm a bipolar patient, and I got this tattoo in a really unplanned way. But it's so appropriate. It's a sri yantra: 49 triangles, two opposing forces that make momentum. My life might get difficult, but I feel like I'm made of perpetual motion, like a stormy sea. And I like to think that the ocean and my soul can't be tamed." —Alfonsina Soledad, Facebook



"I have a Star Trek-inspired tattoo. I love to travel and do new things, but a lot of the time it gives me major anxiety. I got this tattoo to remind myself that I can do it." —Liz Boccolini, Facebook


"I have a thigh piece that says 'I deserve good things' because the concept of deserving the same things as everyone else, and being equal them, has been a particularly hard one for me to accept, both as a fat girl and as a survivor of physical/emotional/sexual abuse. I became really determined to get this tattoo as a symbol of how far I’ve come in my self-love journey, and as a reminder that I have inherent worth as a person!" —Amisha Treat, Facebook


"This summer I got a tattoo to symbolize my recovery from an eating disorder. After battling my ED and the depression and anxiety that came with it, I wanted a symbol that showed all the hard work of recovery, and which reminded me to choose recovery every day. Mental illness isn't something to be ashamed of or hide; we should wear our scars proudly to show how strong we have been in fighting this battle. I chose the words 'take care' along with the ED recovery symbol to show the accomplishment of my recovery and to always remember to take care of myself: emotionally, physically, and mentally." —Casidhe Gardiner, Facebook


"My tattoo is a music staff wrapped around my arm, with the melody from two lines of a song by Jason Upton. The lyrics are 'where the spirit of the lord is, there is freedom; freedom reigns in this place.' It turns into a banner on my wrist saying 'selah,' a Hebrew word used between the biblical psalms. No one is absolutely sure of the meaning of the word, but one interpretation is 'don’t stop paying attention, there is more coming.' It's my freedom-from-self-destruction tattoo." —loveleavesfootprints



Corey E.

"In 2013 after escaping an abusive relationship and conquering the depression that stemmed from that relationship, I decided to get this tattoo. Carpe diem: 'seize the day.' A lot of people tried to discourage me from getting it, because it’s a common tattoo and seemingly cliche, but it resonated with me, and when I look in the mirror, I am reminded to make the most of each day to the best of my ability, to appreciate everything I do have as opposed to what I don’t have yet, to appreciate my freedom, to try and love myself more each day and not dwell on my painful past experiences. It reminds me to keep fighting on days where I am depressed." —Corey E.


"My skeleton key (which desperately needs touch-ups) was inspired by my struggle with depression. I got it when I was 22 years old. I was not well, and hadn’t been for years. Luckily I was in college and was able to utilize my university’s mental health clinic. During my sessions, my therapist shared with me that many people with depression put themselves in a self-created prison, and one of the keys to getting well was to learn how to get myself out. My tattoo is a reminder that I hold the key to freedom from my prison of depression. I am in control of my depression, not the other way around. Eight years have gone by so far, and it still serves me well." —lizbeth6891


"In 2014, I suffered from a severe panic disorder and extreme anxiety. While in therapy, I explained it felt as if my anxiety made me lose all of the things that made me special. My therapist said that I didn’t lose anything, that I still have all of my gifts and personality, and that I just don’t realize I have it. I equated this to characters from The Wizard of Oz: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. The Wizard tells the Tin Man he had a heart all along, and gives him a symbolic heart so he never forgets that he has what he’s looking for. I got this tattoo so that I never forget that I always have the things that make me special, even when my anxiety kicks in and I begin to doubt myself." —christopherc4811e9de0



"I’ve struggled with OCD and panic disorder for most of my life. The last few years have been the most difficult. It was getting to the point where I couldn’t leave my house, couldn’t work, or socialize. I went to therapy twice a week every week for years. Medication didn't help. I was exhausted and miserable.

Then I found the Anxiety Treatment Center in Sacramento, California. This last year has been truly miraculous for me. I am back at work, attending social events regularly; I’m able to sleep, to function as a normal person again. This isn't to say that I am 'cured,' I just now have the proper tools to deal with the monsters of my disordered mind. After I completed an intensive outpatient treatment last year, I rewarded myself with a new tattoo. I’m a big Harry Potter fan but there is much more behind my ink than that. In the books (and movies) the spell 'Ridikkulus' is used to turn scary things into funny things. My mind used to turn ordinary things into terrifying things, but now I’m able to turn them right back around. I can laugh at myself, and I can laugh at the absurdity of the things that once seemed so scary. Therefore, this tattoo seemed an appropriate choice. We have the power to change what we fear most." —maggiem4d4c5de2c


"I struggle with depression, and have spiraled into suicide attempts and self-harm. When I was 16 years old, I found Christ and things went up from there. I still struggle, but now I know that I have worth in His eyes. My LOOK UP tattoo is to remind me to look up to God, not be ashamed of myself or my past, not to look down from fear of people or how I see myself, and be proud to walk with my head high. And, if I feel like being sarcastic, I can make 'my eyes are up here' jokes.” —amandaw47ecb15a6


"My whole life, I’ve suffered from Bipolar 1 and Panic Disorder. In 10th grade, I attempted suicide by overdose on my antidepressants. I was being treated for depression at the time, and my doctor belittled me for suggesting I needed treatment for something different. I felt trapped. Nobody would listen or help, and I was failing high school after being a straight-A student my whole life. I was convinced I was either mad, or nobody cared that I felt I had a different issue than depression. I’m under proper treatment now, and I feel I’m properly diagnosed. As a coping mechanism, when I’m feeling dangerously low, I read, or I write, or I just close my eyes and tell myself a wild fairy tail until I’m calm enough to stand up and carry on rationally again. My tattoo — the Elvish 'Av’-osto' meaning 'do not fear' — is a constant reminder that things will be all right later, tomorrow, or maybe next week, and that I have worlds to escape to, and universes to create." —admetcetera


"This tattoo is for my recovery from self-harm. I got the 'future' part done on my 18th birthday, a birthday I never thought I would see because of my depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and other things. I got the 'past' part on the first anniversary of giving up self harm. Relapses happen, but what’s important is that we choose recovery again. These tattoos help me do that, when it’s hard to remember the point of it all. Recovery is possible and worth it." —arur



"I got a quote from The Catcher in the Rye. It might seem generic, but the quote means something different for me. After years of struggling with depression, I finally sought help. I learned to channel all of the bad stuff that happened into my music, thus turning my history into poetry. It's about taking something bad from the past, and turning it into something beautiful." —aoifeo44a2a1c6e


"I struggled with depression growing up and self-harmed from age 12 to 16. When I graduated high school, I decided to get an anchor tattoo because I refuse to sink. Everybody had an idea of me just giving up, and the anchor went against that expectation. I chose to get it in white ink since it wasn’t a tattoo for the world to see; it was for myself — a personal reminder that it is possible to overcome the hardships of life, and of my dream to become a counseling psychologist." –jasminejadema


"I have been chronically ill for my entire life. From an immune disorder at birth which led to two kidney transplants, to the chronic pain which none of the dozens of doctors I’ve seen can figure out, to every cold or flu that comes from spending life on anti-rejection drugs. When I’m not feeling well, I will often call my mom, and every time she’ll say, 'Just breathe, drink a cup of tea, and keep moving.' Last year, I got my first tattoo. It just says 'BREATHE' in my best friend's handwriting. Every time I look at it— either during my multiple hospitalizations, on a day when I’m in so much pain I can’t move, or just when my anxiety is trying to pummel me— I look at it and I take a deep breath and it helps me keep my mind at ease with the things that I cannot control." —imawhaleofatale



"I had this tattoo done to remind me that I’m resilient, and that I am capable of overcoming anything. I suffered from anorexia in high school, but I recovered to be stronger than ever. Now I love my body, and I know I can rise above whatever I go through." —colleenb46a412af5


"I got the idea from Project Semicolon, and it really resonated with me. I always loved tattoos on other people but never thought I’d like something enough to put it on my body forever, until I saw this. I have depression, anxiety, and the occasional panic attack. The idea behind the semicolon is that it represents a sentence the author could have ended and chose not to. YOU are the author. The sentence is your life. I look at it every day and feel like a survivor." —janam4b10867dd


"It was hard for me to remember to stay strong as a kid, so I would wear special bracelets or even stickers on my hand to remember to keep trucking along. But those things were removable, and I needed a permanent reminder to keep fighting. So the second I turned 18, I got a tattoo on my wrist, where I could see it at all times. I got a bow and arrow because of a quote I saw that was something along the lines of, 'Life is like a bow and arrow, you have to be pulled backwards to shoot forward.' I made sure to get the arrow in the back position because that is the moment when I need it most." —daciemerollin


"'Stet' is a form of Latin verb, and is a term used in editing and proofreading. It roughly translates as 'let it stand' — or, as my editor friend Craig said it better: leave it, nothing wrong here. Some people might think that I should change who I am — tone down what they consider my crazy — but, actually it is fine for me to remain as I am." —roxannemackey1


"I got this tattoo of a quote from Albert Camus — 'In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer' — with a sweet olive tree for my birthday. I’ve had a lot of personal issues, most recently a divorce after 24 years of marriage, and somehow I always pull through." —jenniferlegerm

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