’13 Reasons Why’ semi-colon tattoos are becoming so popular

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I actually only know of one real reason why semi-colon tattoos are becoming so popular, but this trend is intimately linked to the Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’. The series centres on the suicide of the student Hannah Baker and the cassette tapes she left behind, which explain why she killed herself. Recently, the cast members Alisha Boe and Tommy Dorfman and the executive producer of the series, Selena Gomez, got semi-colon tattoos as a way of showing solidarity with those struggling with mental health issues (And no, the crew are not just really ‘committed grammar nerds’). Their new body art was inspired by ‘Project Semi-Colon’, which aims to empower people suffering from depression. The founder of the project, Amy Bleuel, once explained the significance of the semi-colon: ‘a semi-colon is chosen when an author could’ve chosen to end the sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life’. Many people have been moved by this message and chosen to get ‘semi-colon’ tattoos themselves, hence the latest trend.

Unlike so many other trends, this one serves an important purpose. Bleuel decided to set up ‘Project Semi-Colon’ after her own battle with mental health and in the memory of her father who committed suicide. The project is ‘dedicated to the prevention of suicide’ through ‘raising public awareness’ and equipping every person with the right tools. The website provides advice on how to seek help with mental health issues. The semi-colon tattoo helps to de-stigmatize mental health issues by getting people talking about this topic. People often say that their tattoos provide them with an interesting point of conversation; if that conversation is about mental health, then that is even better!

The ’13 Reasons Why’ crew opened up about their own mental health battles after they got their semi-colon tattoos. Tommy Dorfman posted the following message on Instagram:

‘I struggled with addiction and depression issues through high school and early college. I reached out and asked for help. At the time, I thought my life was over, I thought I’d never live past the age of 21. Today I’m grateful to be alive, in this new chapter of life in recovery, standing with my colleagues and friends, making art that helps other people.’

Selena Gomez has also been honest about her ‘battle with anxiety and depression.’ The executive producer of ‘13 Reasons Why’ in fact took time off last year to seek behavioural therapy in order to overcome these issues. She has stated that the therapy “completely changed [her] life” and she wishes that “people would talk about therapy”.

A Guardian article by Zoe Williams unfairly criticized the series ’13 Reason Why’ regarding its treatment of the topic of suicide. Williams’ opening line is: ‘If there was a list of ways not to portray suicide, then this would tick every box.’ She argues that by exploring reasons for the student, Hannah’s suicide, the show suggests that suicide is a legitimate response to traumatic events such as rape and bullying. Williams also suggests that making a Netflix drama about suicide is dangerous as it risks ‘glamourizing it or making it thrilling’.

Such a view is a misrepresentation of the series. The series by no mean legitimizes suicide – it actually encourages individuals to carry on, however difficult that may be. This message is reinforced by the semi-colon tattoos of crew members – Dorfman stated their tattoos represented “the beginning of another chapter in life, in lieu of ending your life”.  The show repeatedly states that Hannah’s suicide was not inevitable; it was ultimately a decision that Hannah made. At the end of each episode, the series advises viewers struggling with their mental health to seek help and view the resources on their website. Thus, the series supports people to seek alternatives to suicide in recognition of the needless loss of life and the devastating impact of suicide on family members and friends.

The show does not try to make suicide ‘thrilling’ or ‘glamourous’. In fact the character Tony, who was one of the first people at the scene where Hannah committed suicide, described the aftermath as ‘quiet.’ The employees responsible for dealing with Hannah’s dead body just quietly did their job; there was no drama. In fact, he suggested that the body bag was just thrown indifferently into the back of a van. The Guardian article’s criticism of the show is unwarranted. The show should instead be praised for raising awareness of traumatic experiences faced by an alarming number of young people today. The series has additionally helped to break the stigma around mental health issues.

It is important also that we as individuals consider how we interact with other people. As the character Clay Jensen stated: ‘It has to get better. The way we treat each other and… look out for each other.’ I am going to end this article not a full stop, but with a semi-colon, in the hope that the messages raised in this article will continue to linger in your mind after you have finished reading;

If you are struggling with mental health issues then you can access help at Queen Mary’s Advice and Counselling services. Read this article for further information: http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2018/04/mental-health-on-campus-how-to-get-help-at-qmul/

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