Depression affects about 350 million people around the world. The World Health Organization considers it the leading cause of disability and a main contributor to the global burden of disease. In the United States alone, major depressive disorders affect 16 million adults every year – about 6.7 percent of the population.
Many people who have depression get tattoos of designs or words that inspire them, motivate them, or simply remind them why they should keep on fighting the condition. Others get tattoos to spread awareness about depression.
We asked our readers to share the stories behind their beautiful tattoos. Keep scrolling to check them out.
If you'd like to share the story behind your depression tattoo, email us with the subject line "My Depression Tattoo" and be sure to include a photo of your tattoo, a short description of why you got it or why you love it, and your name.
“This is something of a personal mantra. It keeps me from falling into apathy and helps me to remember that even when it seems like there is no escape, you should never stop trying.” — Nat
“Joshua 1:9: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not fear for the Lord your God goes with you.’ I am a ‘trier.’ I am someone who is relentless enough to continue when I realize I will be the last one. Unwilling to let my depression prompt me to quit by taking my own life, I knew what that looked like because both my parents ended their lives by suicide. I wanted to be strong and courageous; I wanted to be brave. I do fear and feel weak, but I keep trying.” — Patricia
“For my entire adult life I have been living with mental illness. At age 20 I was diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder, and with that diagnosis came shame and embarrassment. Now in my mid-30s I have learned to quell the stigma that is associated with mental illness. I have learned to control and manage my personality disorder, but every day is a battle to accept and love myself. My tattoo is the word “love” shaped as a heart to remind myself that I am not my disorder, and I deserve to be loved by myself and by others.” — Amy
“’Live the life you love. Love the life you live.’ I believe it speaks for itself. Having bipolar disorder keeps me on edge almost all the time and I frequently forget to love my life instead of hate my disorder.” — Brenda
“When an octopus gets stressed, it will literally eat itself. This is my constant reminder to just relax, because everything will be okay.” — Indigo
“After I went through a severe depressive episode, was hospitalized, and ultimately diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, I decided I wanted a tattoo to help remind me that perspective can make a huge difference in how I react to things. The bipolar emoticon can be viewed as a happy face or a sad face just by looking at it differently — just as in real life.” — Brian Aden
“The reason I got two pandas is because they are one of my favorite animals. If you look closely enough, one panda is happy and the other is sad. I am bipolar, so the happy panda represents manic episodes and the sad panda is representing depressive episodes. The reason why I have a green ribbon in between them is because the green is representative of Mental Health Awareness Week, which is May 11 to May 17 each year. At first I found it really difficult to come to terms with being diagnosed with bipolar (I was only 16 at the time) and it impacted significantly on my life. At the time I was doing my A-Level exams and I couldn't focus on revision or lessons, so I failed the exams. Now, at the age of 18, I have come to terms with my diagnosis and my life is getting back on track. I am proud to be bipolar and this tattoo represents that.” — Jemma
“In 2011, the band Kill Hannah held a charity tattoo drive to benefit the organization To Write Love on Her Arms. I went through a very dark, completely numb period where close friends worried I'd literally die from my broken heart. Music (specifically, the bands Kill Hannah and Jack's Mannequin/Something Corporate) was my salvation. I proudly wrote LOVE on my arm to show others that they don't have to face anything alone. There is always someone to help, to care, to talk to, even if it is a stranger. You just need the courage to ask.” — Des
“I started suffering with depression at a really young age (around 11 years old) but I managed to hide it until it finally got so bad, I had to go to the doctors. Within weeks off seeing the doctor, I saw a therapist and was diagnosed with severe depression and put on antidepressants. At 15 years old, I didn't want to take the medication, due to wanting to feel like “a normal teenager.” Eventually though, I ended up taking them as prescribed. All throughout my recovery from my depressive episode, my family and my therapist were all telling me to “stay strong.” When I relapsed at the age of 17, I tried to commit suicide. I forgot what I had been taught — that I can get through anything, as long as I stay strong. I had those words tattooed on my wrist so whenever I was going through something bad, I could just look down at my wrist and remember to stay strong.” — Jemma
“The basic story behind my tattoo is ‘To write love on her arms.’ It’s my inspiration to keep from cutting every time I look down at my wrist. I got it after a breakup as a reminder that I am loved no matter what, and I don’t need anyone else to affirm that I’m beautiful and worthy. All I need is me. I am worth loving regardless of anything.” — Chanel
“My third depression tattoo is my most geeky tattoo. It is my serotonin and dopamine molecular tattoo that is located on my right wrist. The serotonin and dopamine hormones are the hormones that are responsible for regulating how happy you feel. I have always been interested in science at school and especially in biology, so I thought why not get a tattoo that not only shows my enthusiasm in science, but that also makes me remember that whenever I am feeling down, eventually my brain will release these hormones and I will feel happy again.” — Jemma
“I decided to get this tattoo on my wrist after I first heard about Free Love Day in April 2011. That’s when I learned of the group To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest in treatment and recovery. I decided to get the tattoo in a place visible to all, so that someone might ask me: ‘Hey, what does that mean?’ and I might spread awareness.” — Ashley
“This is my "Depression Tattoo." It is a dream catcher to protect me from hurting myself and others. It has a wolf in the middle of it to represent the “Two Wolves” Native American tale, and the three different colored beads represent the birth stones of three people in my life who helped me when I was going through my worst depression. I got the tattoo to help me on bad days and to look at it as a reminder of strength, love, freedom, determination, and resilience.” — Mariah
“Emilie Autumn writes songs that I can relate to and pushes me to fight hard to live for myself. A couple years ago, I got the chance to meet her. I told her of my struggles and she told me that she had similar experiences. She autographed my arm that is covered in scars and made me promise to never hurt myself again. I haven't self-injured since. I am constantly reminded by the tattoo that life is worth fighting for.” — Tina
“God was the inspiration behind this tattoo. It reminds me that He is always there with me in everything I do and everything I go through, protecting me and the people I care about through my mania and depression phases.” — Tyler
“I got this tattoo a little over two years ago. I've been diagnosed bipolar type 1. My tattoo stands for being depressed and manic. I got it as a symbol that I am in control of my illness, and am not afraid to show people that it makes me who I am today. It's a great conversation starter and has helped me begin to educate the ones around me about bipolar.” — Korrie
“I have PTSD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. I had a wonderful, black, fat, happy, service animal named Eddie for 11 years. He was part Border collie and part Labrador Retriever.
Together, we created a new life for me, after my old, "normal" life was over. He took me to the grocery store and we rode horseback. With him, I could leave the house and participate in life again. We even educated the public about PSDs (psychiatric service dogs). When he was passing, I promised him we would never be apart again, and got a tattoo of his paw print. He is always with me now... so I am not afraid anywhere I go.” — Alise
“This is on my left foot. I got it during my senior year of college during my first — and so far only — unmedicated depression. I got this because I needed a physical reminder of strength and that I need to give myself and those around me grace for the day. I chose a butterfly because I feel much like when a caterpillar is going into a cocoon and feels as though it is dying. This symbolized my depression and that if I could hold out and get through it, I could become something beautiful on the other side.” — Rhiannon
“As I struggled through urges of self-harm and suicide and felt utterly hopeless, I knew I needed something to remind me that there was hope even when I couldn't see it or feel it. This tattoo is a constant reminder of the sometimes seemingly-impossible-to-grasp hope. I look at my wrist and know I have to keep fighting because there will be better times, even if they don't always last.” — Kelly
“I am bipolar axis II. I have been hospitalized several times. After my second stay in the hospital with a new game plan of ECT, I had my mom drive me to get this tattoo. I have since changed my life completely and have had opportunities I never thought I would. This picture was taken last summer in Ibiza. It reminds me to fight for life.” — Melissa
“The grey ribbon symbolizes borderline personality disorder awareness. I was diagnosed with this condition months ago. The condition is a gift in that we are hypersensitive to the positive emotions of love; in a way that only borderliners can truly understand, the feeling is incredibly intense and comforting. Conversely, heartbreak and the associated negative emotions are, to a similar degree of intensity, debilitating and last for quite some time (the curse).” — Landon
“I got this tattoo to remind myself not to give up no matter what. It's a quote I really like and it says: "Sometimes you've got to fall before you fly." I also have a semicolon tattooed on my wrist. I don't know if you're familiar with the Semicolon Project but the semicolon is a way of saying: "Your story isn't over yet." That is symbolic for people that struggle with depression, self-harm, and suicide. Please look it up if you're not familiar with it.” — Ashley