Amy Bleuel, a leader in the movement to raise awareness and eradicate stigma around mental health issues, died March 24. She was 31.
In April 2013, Bleuel took to social media with an idea. Anyone who had ever struggled with a mental illness would draw a semicolon on their wrist and post a photo. A semicolon symbolized that a sentence wasn’t over yet, and neither was their life.
The tagline was: Your story isn’t over. Since then, it’s estimated that millions have shared photos of semicolons on their bodies, both drawn and permanently tattooed, as part of a burgeoning effort to erase the societal shame long associated with mental health.
Because of her activism, Bleuel was featured in a June 2016 Washington Post article about people coming out about their mental illnesses.
“People want to know they’re not suffering in silence,” Bleuel said then. “We want to have that discussion. We’re done losing people to suicide; we’re done not knowing what to do.”
Bleuel, who lived with her husband, David, in Green Bay, Wis., struggled with depression most of her life. Her father died by suicide when she was 18. Her death notice does not state a cause of death, but says that she is “at peace in Heaven with her father.”
She had three semicolon tattoos: One on her left arm for her dad, one on the back of her right leg for her best friend who was going through a difficult time when she was founding Project Semicolon, and one for herself on her left arm above her elbow, she said.
Bleuel’s impact and reach was global as people all over the world adopted the semicolon as a symbol of strength and determination. As news of her death spread across social media Thursday, fellow advocates and the people whose lives she touched offered their gratitude and remembrance.
Bleuel, in an interview for the aforementioned Post article, said being the face of the project was healing but also difficult because of the expectations people had of her and some of the negativity that she endured from trolls on social media.
Still, Bleuel felt strongly that she was making a difference in giving hope to people with mental illness, while also educating society on the impact the illness has on so many lives.
“People want to know they’re not suffering in silence, you feel alone like no one cares, to know someone is there, that is what these people go forth with, they take this energy to better themselves,” Bleuel said. “I think it’s just opening the minds of society. I would hope through my stories and platforms that they would see these are everyday people, just like you, and they’re attempting to make their lives better, but here is what they struggle with.”
“I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped,” she said, “and I believe I’ve done that.”