Tattoos have always held power and meaning beyond ink on the skin. Indicating rank or status in a community, membership in a group, giving a visual representation of an internal state, to pure aesthetics; the reasons we apply ink to our skin are endless.
Meanwhile, mental health and mental health awareness have increasingly moved from a taboo to a part of our everyday conversation. For the many among us who have struggled with mental health issues, a tattoo can offer strength, raise awareness, and demonstrate solidarity with others moving forward.
Variations are plentiful, but here are some of our favorite mental health tattoo designs for self-care and self-love.
The classic butterfly tattoo is more than just a pretty design. A butterfly begins its life as a caterpillar before metamorphosing into its final form as a vibrant and beautiful creature capable of flight.
This journey resonates with those who have struggled with mental health, been through hard times, and made it to the other side.
2. Lotus Flower
Tattoos of flowers are evergreen and always in vogue. You can never go wrong with a rose, peony, or chrysanthemum. But the lotus flower has a deeper meaning for those with mental health journeys.
The lotus plant grows from the mud in a body of water before flowering on the water’s surface in bold purple, pink, and white hues. It represents the possibility of strength, resilience, and rebirth despite difficult circumstances.
Many clients and artists combine the lotus with images of animals, the om symbol, and other images to intensify its meaning. A popular text variation is “every flower must grow through the mud.”
3. Seated Meditator
Although many will recognize a seated meditator tattoo as a representation of a connection to Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritual practices, this tattoo has a mental health meaning as well.
It can be hard to be present in the moment for people who struggle with anxiety. This mindfulness tattoo can remind you to focus on what you can control now.
A well-placed text tattoo can be a reminder to focus. People familiar with the experience of a panic attack will know it can be overwhelming and make you feel like you aren’t in control of your body.
This simple text tattoo, often placed on the inside of the finger, wrist, forearm, or hand, helps us refocus that energy and control our breathing.
One of the simplest designs on this list has a deep meaning within the mental health community. In writing, the semicolon is used when the writer could end the sentence but continues anyways; examples of this technique are everywhere if you pay attention.
Many people who have suffered from suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, or other mental illness apply a semicolon tattoo to their bodies to represent their decision to continue through difficulties.
Many celebrities have embraced this tattoo design, including Selena Gomez, to help bring visibility to Project Semicolon, suicide prevention, and mental health organizations.
6. Broken Chain
Prevalent in prison tattooing, the broken chain is a powerful image representing a release from bondage, incarceration, or oppression.
Someone suffering from depression or anxiety may interpret it as a symbol of self-acceptance or breaking away from identifying themselves solely through their mental health struggles. It can also represent that someone has suffered from trauma but has broken away from it.
It is often found tattooed on the hand, under the collarbone, or wrist.
7. This Too Shall Pass
This text tattoo is an adaptation of an adage from medieval Persian Sufi poets. For many, things will not always be exactly how they are now — everything good, bad, or neutral does not last forever.
For people struggling through tough times, this affirmation can be a gentle reminder to stay strong and patient and never lose hope — and it can balance the sometimes prevalent negative self-talk that comes with mental illness. Although delicate script is often the preferred font for this style of body art, some people prefer it in Persian calligraphy.
8. Barbed Wire
Barbed wire tattoos originated in the criminal world, with each spike along the wire representing a year of imprisonment. But since becoming a part of the greater tattoo lexicon, the meanings have changed, and people seek it out for different reasons.
To cross a barbed wire fence causes pain, so many wearers look to it as a bold statement of surviving pain and trauma. From another perspective, this meaningful tattoo can be seen as protection from the challenges we face.
9. Serotonin Compound
The neurotransmitter serotonin is sometimes known as the happiness hormone. Many medications prescribed for depression and anxiety increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin tattoos are typically done as simple line tattoos in the design of its chemical structure. Some designs embellish the basic layout with flowers.
People choose this tattoo to represent their struggle with mental health or to raise awareness and show solidarity with others. This tattoo can become a meaningful part of your mental health journey.
The mythical phoenix is an immortal bird that lives for hundreds of years before going up in a blaze of fire and rising from its ashes with a new life. A tattoo of a phoenix can represent being reborn stronger than ever after a period of difficulty.
The bird is often depicted in bold reds and oranges, sometimes engulfed in flames, with its wings spread upward in flight.
Many of us are familiar with the expression “like a moth to the flame.” Although this expression means being drawn to something that may hurt us, there is another meaning regarding mental health tattooing.
The nocturnal moth only comes out at night and is drawn to sources of light. For some, this means remembering to follow the light at the end of the tunnel no matter how difficult and dark things may get. Much like butterflies, moths undergo a metamorphosis before reaching their final form.
Often tattooed on the sternum and stomach, variations on the basic design will incorporate a crescent moon or another source of light.
12. Lavender Plant
The lavender plant is favored for its essential oils, which are soothing and calming. Its color and shape also make it a great houseplant or garden go-to.
Although this tattoo may be chosen for aesthetics alone, anxious people may choose to get a lavender tattoo as a subtle nod to their relationship with anxiety. These are usually made as simple line drawings and shaded with pops of purple and green.
13. Koi Fish
The key to the koi fish tattoo’s meaning lies in the legend of the Dragon Gate. In this story, a koi fish swims upstream through rivers, waterfalls, and other obstacles until reaching the Dragon Gate at the top of the mountain before transforming into a powerful dragon.
Often depicted as a pair of two fish, or a single fish emerging from the water, this tattoo symbolizes perseverance, strength, determination, and resilience through times of difficulty.
14. Green Ribbon
A green ribbon is an international symbol of mental health awareness. People with this tattoo may suffer from mental issues themselves, or they may get it to express solidarity with friends, family, and all others facing these challenges.
Although the most common design is simply the ribbon itself, it can be found incorporated into other designs– as the stem of a flower, the body of a butterfly, or alongside accompanying text.
15. Overthinking Head
The overthinking head is more of a broad category than a single design. These designs typically show a human face with some part of it altered. A face with mazes, spirals, or squiggles coming out of it, a head with multiple faces attached to it, and faces with fog coming out of it are all common variations.
In the mental health context, the meanings of these designs are endless. For some people, it represents the feeling of living with bipolar, anxiety, and other conditions that make their minds feel disordered.
16. Self-Harm Cover Ups
For people who have gone through periods of self-harm, a tattoo can be a powerful way of turning that pain into a positive. For this category of tattoos, no single image is most common since personalization is everything.
Regarding scars from cutting, some people choose to have a tattoo that interacts with it. This could mean a tattoo is designed around the scars or using the space between the scars to incorporate text. Others opt to cover them up completely with hopeful and inspiring images.
Mad Rabbit Can Help Honor Your Mental Health Tattoos
Although tattoos of all kinds can be deeply personal, designs that speak to mental health struggles are even more so. From simple line drawings to text to intricate designs that are layered with meaning, these tattoos can be therapeutic and reassuring for the wearer.
Mad Rabbit’s tattoo aftercare products can help you continue the life of your mental health tattoo with the same thought, intention, and care that inspired your decision. Our Soothing Gel can help support the healing process by restoring your moisture barrier and soothing irritation in those first two weeks of healing.
Applying our Tattoo Balm daily to a newly healed tattoo or existing work can preserve it, maintaining the vibrancy of these meaningful designs long after you leave the chair.