Over three hundred people were tattooed with a simple semicolon on Sunday, February 17 to show solidarity with those experiencing mental health issues.

The event was a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Elgin Branch put on by Stay True Tattoo in partnership with the St. Thomas Police. Each tattoo cost $40, with every penny going to CMHA Elgin. Five tattoo artists worked as quickly and carefully as possible while dozens of volunteers helped to keep the process running smoothly. Three of the artists work full time at Stay True and the others were Ned Burwell from Endless Boundaries and Joe Higgin from The Inkery.

The line up outside of Stay True Tattoo began forming at 7:30am and didn’t disappear until well after 5pm, despite the subzero weather and the advertised event time of 10am to 5pm.

Lineup outside Stay True Tattoo for Semicolon Tattoo Day
Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media

Stay True Tattoo owner Rich Lambe says the studio’s goal was to raise $5000. The results blew their goal out of the water with $14,570 raised for CMHA Elgin.

According to Shelley Barrett-Green, Case Manager at CMHA Elgin, the money will go to clients in areas where funding isn’t provided for. This might include therapy not covered by OHIP or necessities like food and personal items for clients moving into new homes.

Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media

Shelley was thrilled with the incredible turnout for the event and what it means for mental health awareness in our community. “Everybody here has a story around mental health, whether it be their own story or a family member or somebody they support,” she says. “This event raises awareness around mental health issues, which is so important when it comes to breaking down the stigma.”

Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media

Representing continuance, the semicolon has become a symbol of support for those suffering from mental illness. It is used when an author could end a sentence but chooses not to. Amy Bluel, founder of Project Semicolon, says, “You are the author and the sentence is your life, and you’re choosing to continue.”

The semicolon is a great conversation starter for a topic that is sometimes surrounded by fear and shame. “People are so easy to talk to about their own physical health issues, but when it comes to mental health issues there’s that stigma, and people often keep quiet about it,” Shelley says. “Having an event like this really starts the conversation and brings awareness to mental health issues.”

Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media

Stay True office manager Casi Roberts adds, “Going to see a counsellor when you need help should be just as regular as going to the doctor when you’ve got the flu.”

The fundraiser is part of a larger project that will culminate in the Toronto Maple Leaf Alumni Vs. St. Thomas Police Hockey Tournament on April 6. Stay True is a major sponsor of this event which will also raise funds for CMHA Elgin.

Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media