Tattoos a potential marker for risky behaviours, mental health problems?

14 Feb 2019
Tattoos a potential marker for risky behaviours, mental health problems?

Tattoos have long been associated with unhealthy behaviours and a deviant lifestyle, and a recent study suggests that inked individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue and engage in  risky behaviours such as smoking, ever spending time in jail or prison, and having multiple sex partners compared with their noninked counterparts.

Researchers looked at 2,008 adults and used a variety of statistical models to estimate the associations among tattoo characteristics, health‐related outcomes (overall health status, ever diagnosed with a mental health issue, sleep problems) and risky behaviours (current smoking, ever being in jail or prison, and number of sex partners).

The presence, number and specific features of tattoos were positively correlated with ever receiving a diagnosis of a mental health-related condition and sleeping problem. Individuals with one, two, and four or more tattoos, but not with three tattoos, as well as those with visible and potentially offensive tattoos were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health issue than their nontattooed counterparts. Meanwhile, those with any, one tattoo, four or more, and visible tattoos were more likely to have trouble sleeping than individuals without these tattoo characteristics.

Similar results were obtained for all three of the risky behaviours, with the magnitude of associations being larger for individuals with multiple, visible and offensive tattoos.

The present findings provide timely information on whether tattoos are associated with negative health and social consequences in an era where inking is more commonplace and socially acceptable, researchers pointed out.

Healthcare providers and public health advocates should recognize that having a tattoo is a potential marker for mental health issues and risky behaviours, they said, adding that further studies exploring relationships between tattoos, health, wealth, productivity and quality of life are warranted.

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