INKED FOR A CAUSE

Tat­toos raise $25,000 for teen sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­gram

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JEFF BRANSCOME

FRED­ER­ICKS­BURG, VA. | Kather­ine Leaver told her friends she did not feel right — that she no longer wanted to ex­ist.

“I was sui­ci­dal, and I didn’t re­ally re­al­ize it,” she said.

She met with a coun­selor at the urg­ing of friends. The ther­a­pist, rec­og­niz­ing the sever­ity of Ms. Leaver’s de­pres­sion, re­ferred her to a hos­pi­tal for in­pa­tient treat­ment.

It may have saved her life.

Two years later, Ms. Leaver, 20, shared her story dur­ing the 11th an­nual Tat­toos for Com­mu­nity event at Jack Brown’s Tat­too Re­vival in Fred­er­icks­burg. The tat­too par­lor do­nated all of its pro­ceeds to Men­tal Health Amer­ica of Fred­er­icks­burg’s Teen Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion pro­gram, which teaches sev­enth- and ninth-graders how to iden­tify de­pres­sion in them­selves and oth­ers.

Ms. Leaver came with her sis­ter and mom, both of whom planned to get their first tat­toos in the name of men­tal-health aware­ness.

“Hav­ing the re­sources to help rec­og­nize de­pres­sion and sui­cide is re­ally im­por­tant, be­cause I had peo­ple who knew that stuff and were able to say, ‘Hey, you need to go get help,’” said Ms. Leaver, 20, who lives in Stafford County. “It’s re­ally cool that get­ting a tat­too can help sup­port that.”

The par­lor raked in $13,000, the most in the fundraiser’s his­tory. Ten tat­too artists worked non­stop that day from noon un­til 10 p.m., and the line to get in stretched for half a block at one point. The two-day event ul­ti­mately raised $25,500.

“They’re here be­cause they all have a story,” said Rita Gi­rard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Men­tal Health Amer­ica of Fred­er­icks­burg.

She talked with peo­ple whose rel­a­tives had at­tempted or com­mit­ted sui­cide and met a lo­cal mu­si­cian whose band, Sea­side Heights, em­pha­sizes sui­cide aware­ness.

Michele Grif­fin, a men­tal health tech­ni­cian at Mary Wash­ing­ton Hos­pi­tal, planned to get a tat­too read­ing “Love the life you live, live the life you love” in the shape of an in­fin­ity sym­bol.

She wants peo­ple to know it’s OK to seek help. Those deal­ing with men­tal­health strug­gles should see a doc­tor, just like they would for any other med­i­cal con­di­tion, she said.

“It’s not any­thing to be ashamed of,” Ms. Grif­fin said.

Artist Dustin Mu­gridge drew a tat­too con­ceal­ing self-in­flicted scars on a cus­tomer’s arm. The cus­tomer, Kayla Hazel­ton of Fair­fax County, says she has an ad­dic­tive per­son­al­ity and cut­ting her­self was “kind of my first ad­dic­tion.” A reg­u­lar at Jack Brown’s, all of Ms. Hazel­ton’s tat­toos cover the faded scars on her body.

“We’ve done a lot of cover-up stuff to help peo­ple feel more com­fort­able with their past, feel more com­fort­able in their own skin,” Mr. Mu­gridge said.

Ms. Leaver hoped to get a tat­too of a quar­ter rest, a mu­si­cal sym­bol that de­notes a pause in a piece of mu­sic. Or, as she put it: “You catch your breath, [and] you keep go­ing.”

That’s what she did two years ago, af­ter see­ing a coun­selor about her se­vere de­pres­sion.

She took a pause, and then kept work­ing to­ward a mu­sic de­gree at Sweet Briar Col­lege in Lynch­burg.

Ms. Leaver, who con­tin­ues to meet with a ther­a­pist and take med­i­ca­tion for de­pres­sion, is set to grad­u­ate next year.

“I kept go­ing through­out all of it.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Jack Brown’s Tat­too Re­vival artist works on a tat­too dur­ing the shop’s 11th an­nual Tat­toos for Com­mu­nity event in Fred­er­icks­burg, Vir­ginia. The par­lor do­nated all of its pro­ceeds to a Men­tal Health Amer­ica of Fred­er­icks­burg’s Teen Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion pro­gram.

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