By Shambhavi Saxena:
At 18, Wisconsin photographer and graphic designer Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. To honour him, and break the silence surrounding mental illness, she founded Project Semicolon, “a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury.” Because of the project, people are getting themselves inked with semicolons, and flocking to image sharing websites with the results.
When she started Project Semicolon in 2013, Bleuel recognized how prevalent depression and other mood disorders are, not just in the U.S., but the world over. Recent research suggests that one in ten Indians suffer from depression. In fact, the World Health Organization published a report last year detailing alarming suicide rates in the country: “258,075 people committed suicide in India in 2012, with 99,977 women and 158,098 men taking their own lives.” The fact that there is only one mental health worker to every 10,000 people globally, and one to every 1, 00,000 people in low- and middle-income countries, is equally worrisome.
Since its inception, Project Semicolon has engaged an audience of more than 74,000 people on Facebook, has a street team taking care of awareness events and fundraising involving more individuals. So, are these tattoos going to take the wind out of the sails of neuro-normativity? Like other divisions of power, neurotypical privilege is going to be hard to break down. But here’s an earnest effort worth backing.
In the past, mental illness was cast as the outcome of interfering spirits, demonic possession, divine retribution or immoral behaviour, and answered with physical punishment or even death sentences. Half a century ago, medical practitioners decided electrocution, near drowning and lobotomies were appropriate, and before you think we’re out of the woods in 2015, remember that people deemed ‘deviant’ by society are still subject to the invasive methods of shock and conversion therapy. Silence about these issues has further contributed to a widespread ignorance, insensitivity and very little pro-activeness, when it comes to responding to or mitigating a mentally stressful situation for any individual. Conversations about depression increased globally following Hollywood actor and comedian Robin William’s suicide. In India, actor Deepika Padukone’s own struggle has opened up the dialogue further.These conversations have brought to our notice the ableism implicit in our view of the world, our standards, our infrastructure, and even our very language, and the very urgent need for change. Today, among several growing efforts to make talking about mental well-being that much easier, Project Semicolon is making waves- one tattoo at a time.It’s time we talked about mental health; it’s about time everyone is heard.