A WOMAN whose extensive tattoos led to years of depression has been given a lifeline by a new charity.
Debbie Egdell, from Alnwick, was a teenager when she allowed her then partner, a tattooist, to decorate her skin with everything from Celtic designs to fairies and flowers.
But now the Human Life Trust, based in Sunderland, is helping her to heal the physical and emotional scars by offering the latest cosmetic and tattoo removal procedures for free.
For Debbie, now a 42-year-old accounts administrator and divorced single parent, what seemed like a good idea at the time led to years of depression as she realised how much negative attention the markings were attracting.
“It seemed the decisions I made as a teenager were set to ruin my entire life,” she said. “I felt branded. Although I matured and my life moved in a different direction, the tattoos made people view me in a certain way.”
Among the many designs are an Indian dreamcatcher inked on her right arm, fairies engraved on her thigh and a portrait of a man and woman in a loving embrace on her back.
But the price she has paid includes spending summer days wrapped in a cardigan and anti-depressants to cope with the misery and regret of knowing she will be forever marked – and judged – by the tattoos she got as a teenager.
She says: “Being in that kind of environment and, at that age, being quite thoughtless of the future, it was almost inevitable that I got tattooed myself. That was our entire world. All our friends had them and it was simply the norm.”
But when her marriage broke down, leaving her to raise and provide for two children, she entered a new phase of life and realised that not only were the tattoos a visible reminder of her failed relationship, but they were influencing the way other people saw her.
“I began to loathe them,” she said. “And in loathing them and knowing they would be there forever, I began to loathe myself. I’m not who I was then.
“I have spent years dealing with the consequences of being tattooed. I have found I have been treated very differently because I have them and this has caused recurring depression.
“People make judgements and assumptions and form a first impression when they meet you if you are tattooed and, when you are unwell, you are even more sensitive to that.
“As soon as you are around people they are looking at your tattoos. Your friends see you for who you really are and see right past that, but often you don’t get close enough to new people you meet to make friends. You can’t get past the first hurdle – they disregard you at the very earliest stage.
“I was always very aware of how I looked to others and started to become withdrawn. I was eventually in such a state I was hospitalised with depression and am still on anti-depressants.”
Debbie appealed to her GP for help but was told the NHS could not fund the removal of her tattoos as it was seen as a cosmetic and not a medical procedure.
She then decided to save up for private laser therapy – a move she now regrets as it left her with significant scarring.
Debbie said: “I know that often the medical councils won’t agree to fund tattoo removal, yet will often fund breast enlargements or reductions for women who are in similar emotional distress. I feel that is unfair as both are basically appearance issues and when people get tattoos as a teenager they just can’t grasp that it is a lifetime decision.”
The breakthrough came when a friend told her about the Human Life Trust, having read about the work of its founder, Barry Crake.
Mr Crake, 38, from South Shields, was already helping underprivileged people with free scar and tattoo removal treatment paid for out of his own pocket.
However, he found the work so rewarding that he launched The Human Life Trust, which received charitable status in September.
He said: “Unfortunately you’re stuck with the skin you are in, but we have to help people like Debbie fit back into society so they feel accepted again.
“Just because someone has made an error of judgement at one point shouldn’t mean they are outcasts for the rest of their lives.”
The charity is appealing for donations and aims to raise £500,000 by January 2012.
For more information, call 0845 4750 480 or visit www.humanlifetrust.org.uk