By Saskia Rodenburg
“My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story” is a popular saying in the body art community.
Those words convey special meaning for participants in the first ever Mindful Ink event at Free World Tattoo in Little Italy, who were recently tattooed in support of mental health.
On Feb. 10 and 11, Free World Tattoo at 139 Preston St. hosted an event in which participants chose from pre-selected designs by the tattoo artists. The tattoos were about the size of a toonie and cost $100 each. They could be done in black, brown or black with one colour.
The tattoos were all images or messages related to mental health, such as “inhale, exhale” or a semi-colon, which symbolizes the part of a person’s life yet to come.
For every tattoo purchased, $50 went to the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region to support its mental health services. The artists also contributed some of their earnings from the day towards the cause.
Leslie Scott, community relations coordinator with the Distress Centre, said she was excited about the partnership between the centre and the shop. She described the event as a success.
“We were looking for a tattoo shop that felt passionately about supporting local mental health initiatives,” said Scott. “A former colleague has a family member who is friends with the shop owners, so we were able to reach out with a mutual connection. We hit it off right away together. Both parties worked on the designs together for the event.”
The Distress Centre is designed to be a 24/7 crisis and support line service for those needing someone to talk to you in times of hardship. The centre’s motivation comes from needing to erase the stigma surrounding mental health so that everyone feels they can be open about what ails them mentally, according to Scott.
Over the course of the weekend, 130 tattoos were purchased for the Mindful Ink fundraiser. The proceeds from after-care products sold were also contributed towards the cause.
Melyssa Rondhuis is co-owner of the tattoo studio with her fiancé, said she was happy to partner with the Distress Centre for the event. She said she feels “closely personal” to the cause of mental health and wanted to support the centre through the fundraiser.
Rondhuis said tattoos can be helpful for some dealing with mental health crises to get through difficulties.
“It’s a constant reminder, especially with the mental health related tattoos. Those are the kind of tattoos that if you’re having a hard time, you can look at it and it kind of grounds you a little bit,” Rondhuis said.
She said this was the shop’s first big fundraiser and a lot of people who were tattooed were excited about the mental health aspect. Some participants told her they had used the Distress Centre for one reason or another and they wanted to support the cause.
Scott said the conversation around mental health is slowly gaining ground and some have begun to educate others about the complexity of the issue.
“It has been great to see people really opening up and educating others about what mental health is all about,” said Scott. “It’s not just suicidal thoughts — it’s having anxiety when everything is going right, it’s being in such a depressive state you can’t even think about brushing your hair, it’s having an addiction, it’s grief, it’s dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, it’s trying to figure out where you are going to get the next meal for your family.”
The tattoo shop also held a raffle for an eight-hour session with an artist of the winner’s choosing. The tickets cost $20 each or 2 for $30 and the draw took place on Feb. 18.
Rondhuis said the shop would “definitely be interested in doing it (a fundraiser) again” but that she would like to focus on a certain aspect of mental health affecting a specific demographic, such as around a specific demographic, like veterans.
Both Scott and Rondhuis said the tattoos will be talking points to generate greater awareness about mental health issues.
“Tattoos are a conversation piece as it is. People often when they see a tattoo, they’ll say ‘Oh, that’s nice where’d you get it? What does it mean?’ So it starts a conversation and encourages you to tell your story behind your tattoo,” Rondhuis said.