Some consider tattoos to be an extension of oneself, a form of expression etched on the skin, while others consider it an art form, using the human body as a canvas. But for Airdrie tattoo artist, Courtney Rose, owner of Rose Gold Body Piercing her specialty is in paramedical tattoos.

Since the beginning of December, Rose has been offering free sessions for self-harm camouflage tattoos.

"What I trained to do is something called paramedical tattooing and it's a niche tattooing style; you could say that involves working with scar tissue," Rose said. "There's a stigma that's involved with carrying around visible self-harm scars and a lot of the time when people overcome their anxiety, depression and self-harm, they're left with the reminder of these scars."

There are a few different methods that can be applied in this type of tattooing work, one of which is micro-needling, which helps increase collagen and elastin production on the skin, creating a smoother surface.

"It draws less attention to the actual scars themselves and it makes them look a little bit more blended or camouflaged."

However, Rose's initiative to help those who have struggled with mental health is not new. Rose has been offering these types of paramedical tattoos since before COVID-19 and since the inception of her tattoo business, she has worked closely with Airdrie's Thumbs up Foundation on mental health in the city. 

"The initiative itself is really important because we do see a lot of youth in our studio and a lot of the time they are struggling with things like mental health and self-harm," she said. "I lost a very dear friend of mine, Braden Titus; and the Thumbs up Foundation was created in his honour to really talk about mental health and bring awareness to it. It's something that is really near and dear to my heart."

She noted that with the Christmas season nearly here, it can be one of the hardest times of the year for people who are struggling with mental health issues. And while the tattoo sessions can be emotional for the person on the receiving end of the tattoo, Rose also said it is emotional for her.

"Anybody that is out there that's listening and carrying around trauma or the remembrance of somebody that you might have lost:  it becomes easier as time goes on, to remember them in a positive light and to stay positive in regards to your memories for that person," she said. "I try to remember that the reason that I'm doing this and how I'm helping people is exactly what you know, my friends would want me to do."

According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, 5 per cent of Canada's general adult population have attempted self-harm, and up to 15 per cent of youths have also attempted it. 

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