Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Exploring Experiences of Mental Health and Wellbeing-Related Tattoos in Aotearoa

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posted on 2024-06-19, 08:03 authored by Caitlin Tottle

People may obtain a tattoo for a range of reasons; for example, some tattoos may be directly relevant to a person’s mental health and/or wellbeing. This research explored how individuals in Aotearoa experience their mental health and wellbeing-related tattoos or moko. Specifically, I was interested in the perceptions of how/if tattoos influenced their mental health and wellbeing. Tattoo research in the field of mental health and wellbeing is still in its infancy, but shows promising evidence around the potential therapeutic value of tattoos. I took a qualitative approach to analysing interviews with 13 participants. I conducted and transcribed one-on-one semi-structured interviews, and analysed these using reflexive thematic analysis. I identified five themes: Psychological Function (of tattoos), Active Reminders, Empowerment and Agency, Temporality, Communication and Connection. Participant’s experiences of memorial tattoos (tattoos symbolizing the passing of someone or something important to them) are presented as a case study to show the interconnectedness of themes.

The findings suggest that tattoos are generally perceived as positively influencing participants behavioural and emotional function, in part by aiding with emotion regulation, and enabling positive ways of coping with distress. Tattoos were also an avenue of self- expression which empowered participants, helping them feel confident in themselves and their identity. Participant’s tattoos also helped them face challenges and gave them confidence in their ability to cope with distress. Their tattoo experiences appeared to share similarities with some therapeutic practices, namely art therapy, and trauma recovery models. This study shows how tattoos can be a powerful transformative experience that positively influences mental health and wellbeing: for participants, their tattoos were more than a form of art, they are embodiments of identity and life experiences.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Wilson, Marc; Fraser, Gloria