By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor| Photos by Jonathan Baca
It has been said that a picture says a thousand words, and a group of Albuquerque artists and activists are trying to start a conversation about suicide with a very simple symbol; a semicolon.
The second annual Albuquerque, New Mexico Semicolon Tattoo Project is bringing together tattoo artists, mental health workers and the larger community to raise awareness about the dangers of suicide, using the semicolon as their symbol, said former student and Project Manager Jon Cottrell.
“It is the way that we go ahead and address suicide, self harm and mental health, to raise the conversation. Because the more people that talk about it, the more people get treatment, not the other way around,” Cottrell said.
During the weekend of March 15, tattoo artists from eight different shops throughout Albuquerque will be giving tattoos of semicolons at a special fixed rate on people from all walks of life, in order to create consciousness around the issues of suicide, self-harm and depression, Cottrell said.
Tattoos will cost $30, and half the proceeds of each tattoo will be donated to Agora Crisis Center, which is a 24 hour crisis prevention hotline where volunteers answer calls from people who need to talk about tough feelings, and who conduct outreach to schools around the city, discussing mental health issues.
“We are an all-issues listing service that handles everything from having a bad day to more serious issues like suicide prevention. We are totally free and we’re totally confidential,” said former student Jenn Brown, outreach coordinator for Agora and organizer for the Semicolon project.
The group chose the semicolon as their symbol because in writing, it is meant to signify a pause, before the writer continues with more of the story. In the same way, suicidal thoughts are a sign that one should stop, think, and talk to someone about their feelings, before continuing on with their own story, Cottrell said.
“The symbolism of the semicolon is; an author could use a period to end a sentence. Instead, an author used a semicolon to carry on in the same vein, joining clauses. So you can pause, but you carry on. We use that as a metaphor for people’s lives,” he said.
In addition to the tattoo portion of the event, there will also be a benefit concert at the Launchpad downtown on March 15, with performances from local bands, where the proceeds will also benefit Agora.
There will also be a poetry gala on the same night at ArtBar downtown, where local poets, artists and other assorted performers will be gathering and performing.
Last year was the first time the event was held, and in just six days, using only Facebook to advertise the event, the group was able to give out 148 tattoos, Cottrell said.
This year, he had six months to prepare, so he said he expects there to be an even bigger turnout, and even more money earned to support Agora.
New Mexico has the fifth highest rate of suicide deaths in the nation and climbing, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24, Brown said.
“More youth in New Mexico are killing themselves than are being killed by others,” Brown said.
“We need to do something to decrease the stigma around mental illness and suicide in particular, and I think this is a good starting point to have a conversation about it.”
Former student Brian James got involved in the project after losing two long-time friends to suicide in the last year, he said.
James said that for him, the event and the tattoo have become personal, and in the past he has worked with Agora and with an outreach website called SuicideFindingHope.com.
James said he feels like the more people can talk openly about these issues, the easier it will be for people to come forward and talk about it if they are having thoughts about suicide or self-harm.
He said that one of his friends announced his suicide on Facebook, and he feels that if more people were aware of the warning signs and how to talk about this issue, the better chance we have of stopping these tragic deaths.
For him, having the tattoo of the semicolon is both a tribute to his friends, and hopefully a way to raise awareness about the issue, by starting a conversation with people who ask about what it means, he said.
“The symbolism to me is like, you are stopping and saying to yourself, is this what I need to be thinking about right now, and how else could I approach this? You’re still continuing your story, which is really important, but are you going to change the path of how you’re going to continue it?” James said.
English major, Sara Saucedo said she got her semicolon tattoo at the press event for the project on February 27, and that she encourages anyone who has been affected by suicide, depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue to go to the event and get their ink too.
She said that there is already a growing community of activists and tattoo enthusiasts in Albuquerque, and that this project is the perfect melding of these two groups.
She feels proud to be a part of the cause, and hopes that her tattoo will mean something to the people who see it, she said.
“I hope when people see it, it will kind of get the ball rolling on communication, being able to talk to people about your depression, or your sadness, your need to hurt yourself. I think that it is a cool little signal that says ‘hey, I got your back,’” Saucedo said.
For more information about the event, go to signalonethreemedia.com/semicolon, or check out the group on Facebook at facebook. com/semicolontattoo.