19-year-old girl gets tattoo to cover up her self-harm scars
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and nearly 7% of the USA have at least one depressive episode over the course of one year. The illness is aggressive, debilitating, and affects everybody in different ways - sometimes making it hard to spot, and even harder to treat.
For some sufferers, depression and other mental health problems can cause an urge to self-harm. Sometimes these desires can be controlled with medication or other coping mechanisms, but often they become strong compulsions, and those who are afflicted with such urges end up with severe scarring.
Aoife Lovett, a 19-year-old from Ireland, had multiple scars across her forearm as a result of mental health problems she had struggled with earlier in her teenage years. Despite the wounds having healed over, they still showed quite prominently - and Aoife hated seeing them.
"It’s very hard when you’re a couple of years clean from doing it and every day you're constantly reminded of what you did," Aoife said in an interview with the Independent. "It brings back memories of how you felt then. There's a lot of shame that comes with it and guilt, especially when you’re around your family."
In an effort to start afresh, Aoife searched around for a tattoo artist who would work on her damaged skin - but nobody wanted to do it. Due to the difficulty involved, many artists will refuse to work on a client who has raised or keloid scars, as the ink does not take well and can be painful for the person receiving the tattoo.
However, after months of searching, Aoife's mother found an artist named Ryan Kelly who specialised in covering up self-harm tattoos. His project, Scars Behind Beauty, provides free tattoos in order help people like Aoife, and deter them from lapsing back into old habits.
Ryan started the initiative back in February after meeting a client who had sustained a lot of self-inflicted damage to her arm.
The tattoo artist explained that it was one particular client who inspired the project, and it all snowballed from there:
"A girl just randomly came in looking for a tattoo to cover up some scars and I got talking to her and she started telling me her story. At the end of that it didn’t really feel right to charge her. It kind of felt like it meant more to her than that.
"From then I just started to do one a week. I started getting people in once every Saturday and I covered them up. Once I posted it on social media it kind of blew up. I've just been doing it every week since then and I now have close to 300 people on the waiting list now."
Despite the huge wait time, Aoife was lucky enough to get herself a spot with Ryan - and now her arm is transformed into a beautiful work of art.
"Ryan is helping people move on. It's putting something beautiful over something ugly," said the 19-year-old. "It gives you a new sense of freedom and you get you confidence back because it’s very hard to go into jobs and wear t-shirts with scars because you get looks and you get questions a lot about it."
The tattoo artist understands other people's apprehension to tattooing over uneven skin, but thinks his project is worth his time.
"A lot of tattoo artists avoid doing tattooing over scars. Understandably to a certain degree because obviously if you want your best piece it's going to be better on flat skin," he said. "It can take a little bit more time sometimes, but for me it means a lot more than that because you're helping someone move on from a difficult time."
Getting over a mental illness is a long and painful process - and some people carry the effects of it for their entire lives - but little things like this can have an enormous impact. Scars Behind Beauty has helped Aoife a great deal, and will hopefully go on to help hundreds more.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, contact Your Life Your Voice on 1 800 448 3000, Samaritans on 116 123 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 1 800 273 8255. For recorded information, call Mind on 0300 123 3393