Taz Connell has most of his skin covered in ink, and the art runs down the length of his body.
The key points
- Some people use tattoos to overcome the urge to self-harm
- Lifeline Australia has outlined a range of mental health coping mechanisms
- Tattoo shop manager said many clients opt out of using numbing cream when getting new ink
According to Mr Connell, tattoos saved his own life.
Note: The content of this article is intended to warn you about the dangers associated with sexual assault and self-harm.
A Tasmanian man moved from Tasmania to Launceston, in the north of the state to complete a hospitality apprenticeship at local restaurants.
He was forever changed by that decision.
Connell stated that he was sexually assaulted by his owner during the time he owned the business.
“That sent me into a downward spiral of drinking at work, taking drugs, blacking out and self-harming.”
“Anything to try and soothe that pain and the feelings of wanting to hurt myself.”
After several failed suicide attempts, Connell’s mental state began to deteriorate.
He began to get tattooed.
“The tattoos gave me a sense of calm that helped with my inner thoughts about self-harm.”
He stated, “I now use this as a technique when I begin to feel myself falling into old habits.”
While I might be waiting for weeks or months to have a tattoo done, it gives me an opportunity to keep my eyes on the goal and helps me not to self-harm.
“And, hey! Tattoos look better than scars.”
Feeling the pain
The shop manager at Picton tattoo parlour in New South Wales, Renee Hudson, said she has seen the link between body art and mental health first-hand.
The option to use numbing lotion makes tattooing much more enjoyable than ever before.
But many people choose to feel this pain.”
She said, “And perhaps the most frequent thing that I hear about it is that it’s therapeutic. It’s relaxing. And it makes them feel accomplished.”
Ms Hudson shared that many of her clients are quite vulnerable in tattoo chairs, sharing their grief, bad health, or even losing a pet.
“I find it to be something people go to now that they might not have done so in the past.
“And they might have taken the wrong path if they did not possess this expression. They could have taken self-harming to extremes and failed to deal with problems in constructive ways.
Hudson stated, “So, it allows an outlet.”
Keep an eye on your friends
Robert Sams works for Lifeline Australia as a member of the Executive Leadership Team, and he is also a trained Volunteer Crisis Supporter.
Sams stated that people use a variety of coping methods to express their feelings, including art, journaling and tattoos.
I believe young people, and us all, have the potential to find creative solutions for dealing with difficult situations.
He stated that tattoos can be used to express feelings and creativity.
The act of tattooing involves a connection to others. I believe there are strong connections that can lead to prevention.
While tattoos were not always a sign of distress, Mr Sams said there are a few warning signs to look out for.
“When people really have concerns, they sometimes behave and act differently to what they usually do,” he stated.
“Where they’re normally untidy, they can be really tidying things up for example, or they might be really quiet and now they’re very expressive or emotive.”
You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to look after your friends.
Shop manager at Picton tattoo parlour said some people opt out of using numbing cream when getting a tattoo. (Supplied: Picton tattoo parlour)
Connell stated that if Connell failed to see the link between tattoos, mental health and his own personal life, he would “dead like a doornail.”
He has suggested to others that they should get a piercing or tattoo.
“You will feel the self-harm feeling, but it’s going to leave you with something much more than a scar.”
“Tattoos have also given me a lot more confidence to step out into the world and talk about mental health.”