Can tattoos be used as a form of therapy?
New research shows that tattoos can be used as a form of therapy to help people cope with mental health issues. We find out how.
To those who aren’t in the know, the buzz around tattoos in the past couple of years has been quite impressive. It seems the tide has turned again lately, as according to a clinical report in Pediatrics, we are experiencing even a bigger increase in the interest especially in generations, such as Gen Z and Millennials.
And with the recent celebration of World Tattoo Day on the 21st of March, the interest seems to have grown even more in line with the need to express ourselves. However, it is not the only thing that has been experiencing growth in society. Mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD and OCD (which are the top five most common issues), have been under the close observation of many specialists who worry about their recent surge. ‘We are learning and understanding more and more about mental illness. Diagnoses of ADHD and ASC seem to have exploded and there is a three year wait list for neuropsychology assessments in my local NHS service’-says Alice Cochrane, an NHS Psychologist.
The bigger picture of mental health
The problem is definitely growing and unfortunately, according to a global survey in Bangalore Mirror, mainly affecting Gen Z that has been voted the most depressed generation so far. Just as there is no single cause, there is also no single nor simple solution to improve the mental health of the public. Whilst there are some obvious ways to cope with such issues- perhaps one of the most common ones being therapy, talking to specialists and friends, but also spending time in nature, going on ‘hot girl walks’, or simply asking for advice the closest friends - there is a new, not so obvious way that seems to recently be gaining interest of many. ‘Body art therapy’, or in simpler terms-getting a tattoo has surged in popularity.
Every specialist that I spoke to for this feature, mentioned the impact of tattoos gaining popularity and being referred to as ‘a new remedy’ for younger generations, which can be already observed. ‘Getting a tattoo was a way for me to cope with my anxiety. I felt like I was in control of my emotions, and it was so liberating! It was like I was taking back my power.’- says Mary, 21, who used body art therapy before.
The evidence for this discussion is there, as data sources show a link between tattoos and an improvement of mental health. However, the truth is that there is still not that much data on the topic as it is relatively a new concept. But let’s focus on what we know so far.
Market Watch says that the global tattoo market is about to experience a significant growth from 2023 to 2028, being mostly driven by the trend of ‘body art therapy’ and associated with its benefits.
So, let’s have a look at them. Recent research from American Journal of Human Biology shows some direct correlations between getting tattoos and a decrease of cortisol in your body that is responsible for regulating stress levels. Quite literally evidencing that getting a tattoo will make your life less stressful.
On top of that, following the decrease in stress levels, it can further decrease the risk of some mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, but can also leave you with a feeling of empowerment and sense of control over your own life and body.
While the topic is new, its details are already known among experts in the psychological field. Alice Cochrane, an NHS psychologist, comments on the issue:
‘Some of the clients I have assessed may get an impulsive tattoo instead of self-harming’ -she says.
While asked about how an impulsive tattoo can help with coping with mental health issues, she mentions:
‘It can be an alternative to self-harm or reminders of their children or reasons for living. Some people have also used wanting to get a specific tattoo as a reason not to self-harm and had a tattoo to cover up or incorporate old self-harm scars.’
The benefits of tattoos
For Arleta Miklasz, an experienced tattoo artist from Poland, the concept of tattoos and their effects on mental health has been known for quite a long time.
‘Tattoos can definitely be therapeutic. A lot of people come to me with a story or something and they want to express themselves, and for them, getting a tattoo is a form of self-expression and releasing their emotions. It can also be a form of healing for people who have experienced trauma or depression. I’ve also seen tattoos act as a form of self-love, which can help to boost self-confidence and create a feeling of belonging. It’s a very powerful and meaningful experience for many of my clients.’
Arleta also mentions that the experience itself can be very bonding but the act of getting a tattoo itself associated with physical pain ‘can be cathartic for some people, helping them to release any negative emotions they may be feeling.’
Mental health problems are very individual, and complex, oftentimes nothing like you would expect them to be. New information and approaches are being found every day, and each of them is as good as another, with tattoos therapy being one of them. From commemorating designs, to fun and small tattoos, to hiding self-harming scars and helping with the release of emotions and associated pain, tattoos seem like a great way to achieve better mental health.
If you are worried about yourself or someone that you know, you can contact Samaritans, the UK’s mental health line, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day on 116 123 or if you don’t feel like talking, text ‘Shout’ to 85258 to contact Shout UK which is a confidential text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope.