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Tattoos as symbols – an exploration of the relationship between tattoos and mental health

Chloe McCandlish (School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Mark Pearson (School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Article publication date: 15 March 2023

Issue publication date: 4 May 2023

407

Abstract

Purpose

There has been significant growth in the number of people getting tattoos over recent decades. While there might be a myriad of reasons for getting a tattoo, there remains a deficit of knowledge in relation to the potential relationship between tattoos and mental health. This paper aims to explore this potential relationship, from the perspective of those with tattoos, and considers the relevance of this potential relationship for those working in mental health services.

Design/methodology/approach

Data was collected through an online qualitative survey which asked participants to share their experiences in relation to their tattoos and mental health. The survey was shared through social media and distributed to tattoo shops within the UK. In total, 17 participants completed the survey; the survey data was then transferred to Nvivo and subjected to thematic analysis.

Findings

Three themes emerged from the data. First, tattoos as an expression of relationship with self; second, tattoos as an expression of relationship with others, and third, tattoos as a symbol of change. The three domains provide an insight into the complex relationship between identity and tattoos and suggest that tattoos may hold significant importance in supporting people to make meaning following trauma and to communicate elements of themselves to the world around them.

Originality/value

The findings provide an insight into the significance of tattoos which transcends the traditional discourses of tattoos as a marker of risk or deviance. Tattoos may be significant in the process of meaning making and narrating a sense of self and identity.

Keywords

Citation

McCandlish, C. and Pearson, M. (2023), "Tattoos as symbols – an exploration of the relationship between tattoos and mental health", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 217-227. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMHTEP-07-2022-0057

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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