If You See A Green Ribbon On Someone’s Shirt, This Is Exactly What It Means

Pinning a ribbon onto the lapel of your jacket or the pocket of your shirt isn’t just a fashion accessory. These fabric clippings are meant to send a message based on the color. You probably know the significance behind some of the hues you see. But what does a green ribbon signify? Find out before more and more of them pop up this October.

The tradition of wearing a badge or ribbon in support of a cause has roots in humankind’s distant past. Some say that the trend traces all the way back to the days when knights would joust – or even battle to the death. Supporters would hand over tokens of support, sometimes even bits of their own clothing, to the men in armor.

Americans were once thought to have adopted the trend during the country’s Civil War in the 1860s. It was said that people donned yellow ribbons as a way to celebrate soldiers returning from battle. But researchers have since found evidence that the ribbon trend didn’t catch on until the 20th century.

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The American Folklife Center has looked into the history of the yellow ribbon, and it believes that the accessory didn’t become popular because of the Civil War. Instead it has pointed to a song called “Round Her Neck She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” which has been floating around in one form or another for hundreds of years.

The tune’s ties to the Civil War actually come from a Hollywood rendition of the song, according to the Folklife Center’s researchers. In a movie titled Round Her Neck She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, actors Joanne Dru and John Wayne helped build a connection between the conflict and the golden accessory.

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But the real-life reason why Americans started using ribbons in this way may have started much later – in the 20th century. The Folklore Center’s researchers discovered a passage in a 1959 book titled Star Wormwood, which centers on prison reform. In it, they found a tale about a former inmate returning home and hoping to see a sign from his family.

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The prisoner had written to his family in the hope that they’d take him back into the fold after his jail sentence ended. He told them to tie a white ribbon to the tree by the train station. If he saw one, he’d get off and rejoin his relatives. If not, he’d continue his journey and stay away from the family for good.

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The story ended happily – the entire tree was covered in white ribbons when the prisoner arrived at the station. And people continued to tell the same tale over the years. In the 1960s and 1970s, different versions of the story made were spread through churches, newspapers and even movies. And people started using ribbons to welcome home prisoners because of the widely known story.

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But the yellow ribbon would eventually signify more than just welcoming home inmates. In 1979 it became a symbol of hope that Americans abroad would return home safely to U.S. soil. And it all started when U.S. embassy staffers in Iran were taken hostage by insurgents. The wife of the U.S. ambassador, Bruce Laingen, tied a yellow ribbon to an oak tree in the garden of the family’s Maryland residence. She hoped that her husband would come home and untie it.

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And the meaning of the yellow ribbon has continued to morph – it’s not just a symbol for imprisoned Americans anymore. It’s now used to display backing for the U.S. armed forces, especially troops who’ve gone missing or have been captured.

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You might’ve already heard some of these things about the yellow ribbon – and a few of the other more popular hues, as well. A loop of pink ribbon has become a symbol for breast cancer awareness, thanks to an early 1990s campaign devised by Charlotte Haley. Since then, the accessory has become a must-have during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And her idea for ribbons inspired many others to create similar loops for their causes, too.

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The red ribbon made waves when a slew of Tony Award attendees wore the loop on their lapels during the 1991 ceremony. At that time, few people knew that it was a symbol for AIDS awareness. So having celebrities wear the ribbon brought lots of media attention to a topic that some still considered off limits.

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You could see other shades of ribbon pop up around town, of course. Purple is a popular one, meant to inspire hope in those with epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and pancreatic cancer, along with close to 80 other issues.

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If that seems like a lot, then consider the blue ribbon. Its loops are used to symbolize more than 100 different issues, including water safety and malaria awareness. The same ribbon is also used to raise awareness of numerous social problems, such as bullying and human trafficking.

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That isn’t to be confused with other shades of blue, either. A lighter hue is a symbol for prostate cancer awareness. And a denim ribbon highlights genetic conditions. Finally, a turquoise loop lends support to the 20 million Americans who have substance-abuse problems – it’s meant to symbolize recovery.

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Not all ribbons take on a single shade, either. The puzzle piece ribbon is an example. Its multicolored pieces fit together in a pattern meant to symbolize the complexities of autism, other spectrum disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome, too. A polka-dotted ribbon lends support to the community of blind Americans, who total more than three million people.

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And then, of course, there’s the green ribbon. It turns out that this one’s been around a lot longer than some of the other entries on this list. But the meaning has morphed since such ribbons were first worn in 17th-century England. Between 1642 and 1651, the country endured its Civil War, and one protest group hoped to give sovereignty to the people.

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This group was called the Levellers, and their supporters wore green ribbons, as well as rosemary sprigs. These became such a symbol of their ideals that when one of their leaders died, mourners donned both at the funeral.

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Since then, the green ribbon has come to symbolize more than populist ideals. For one thing, people wear the accessory to raise awareness of both kidney cancer and other kidney diseases. In the U.K., these causes are focused on throughout March, so you’re likely to see more kidney-centric ribbons at this time of year.

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Others attach green ribbons to their lapels to raise awareness for another condition: mitochondrial disease. This genetic ailment pulls energy from the body and can be fatal as it may cause organs to fail. The disease, which remains without a cure, can also affect people of all ages.

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The green ribbon has also been used to show support for farming families and rural communities. The idea arose during the late 1990s from a Catholic church in North Dakota. Its members shared the ribbons along with cards bearing the message: “We care through prayer.” The National Catholic Rural Life Conference adopted the idea that year, too, so other remote religious centers began to do the same.

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In more recent years, other social causes have picked up the green ribbon as well. After the July 2005 bombings in London, in Nottinghamshire, England, the police passed out the accessories. The local community then donned the ribbons as a show of solidarity with their Muslim neighbors.

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Three years later, similarly hued ribbons popped up in Manchester, England, to help with an entirely different social issue. The cause was called Body Positive North West, and it intended to raise the profile of quick HIV tests available to those living in the U.K. It was especially important to spread this information because, at the time, more than 30 percent of Britons with HIV didn’t know they had the virus.

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But if you see a green ribbon clipped onto someone’s lapel this October, it could be for a social cause separate from all of the above. That’s because on October 10, people across the globe come together to recognize World Mental Health Day, as organized by the World Federation for Mental Health and observed by the World Health Organization.

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The World Federation for Mental Health made October 10 the World Mental Health Day during the early 1990s. The organization initially used the day to educate the public about mental health issues. As part of those efforts, it transmitted broadcasts on the topic from a Florida studio. And the federation soon came to find that the program was reaching more than Americans.

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The federation received calls from around the world that day. People phoned in from Zambia, the U.K., Chile and Australia. And according to the WFMH’s website, “We realized that we were indeed reaching far afield, because there was an unanticipated and unscheduled telephone call-in from Swaziland, where a group of WFMH members had gathered to view to the program.”

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Today World Mental Health Day has of course become an international day of advocacy and information-sharing. And since 1994 organizers have given each October 10 a special topic beyond general mental health. The first-ever theme was “Improving the Quality of Mental Health Services throughout the World,” for example.

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In 2020 the theme is a lot different, and that’s obviously due to the current state of the world as the global population deals with Covid-19. The World Federation for Mental Health’s president, Dr. Ingrid Daniels, explained the latest topic in a statement on the organization’s website. She wrote, “We know that the levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, social distancing and restrictions, uncertainty and emotional distress experienced have become widespread as the world struggles to bring the virus under control and to find solutions.”

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As of 2020 a staggering 450 million across the world live with mental-health disorders, and one in every four people will deal with such issues over the course of their lifetime. Perhaps most shocking of all is the fact that 800,000 die by suicide each year, meaning someone commits the act every 40 seconds.

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As Daniels put it in her statement, “The current worldwide pandemic arose against an already dire mental health landscape that saw mental health conditions on the rise across the globe.” She later added, “This bleak picture necessitates that we ensure that mental health is prioritized now more than ever before.”

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And it could be a costly error to ignore the mental health crisis, according to Daniels. As more and more people deal with mental health disorders, the impact could easily run into trillions of dollars. So for the well-being of people around the world, the World Federation for Mental Health advocates for universal healthcare.

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It’s from that goal that the federation pulled the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day. The motto is: “Greater Investment – Greater Access.” Daniels tied it all together, writing, “Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for universal health coverage and is urgently required as the world grapples with the current health emergency. We therefore need to make mental health a reality for all – for everyone, everywhere.”

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It isn’t just the World Federation for Mental Health that promotes World Mental Health Day, either. Plenty of celebrities have taken to social media to express their support for the cause. In 2019 singer Harry Styles replied to a fan who tweeted about neglecting her mental healthcare needs.

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The fan took to Twitter to say that, because Styles was releasing a new album and going on tour, she’d have to put therapy on hold. The singer replied to her tweet, writing, “Go to therapy, it’s important. I’ll wait for you.” He then used the World Mental Health hashtag – it was October 10, after all.

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Styles’ fellow singer Ed Sheeran has also highlighted World Mental Health Day on his Instagram alongside a very special guest from the English royal family. He wrote, “Myself and Prince Harry want to ensure that not just today but every day, you look after yourself, your friends and those around you.”

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Sheeran further reassured fans with his Instagram caption. He reiterated, “There’s no need to suffer in silence – share how you’re feeling, ask how someone is doing and listen for the answer, be willing to ask for help when you need it, and know that we are all in this together.”

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The 2019 Mental Health Day observance also saw actress Ruby Rose discussing more than just the value of therapy – she shared her own journey with mental health issues. Rose stated on Instagram that she’d dealt with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as dissociative amnesia, meaning she forgot details of her life due to trauma or stress.

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And actress Kate Walsh chimed in on the photo-sharing platform for 2019’s World Mental Health Day, too. She wrote, “Remember to take things at your own pace, stick it through to the end, and embrace all that you are and all that you aren’t…” The post resonated with fans, many of whom commented to express their thanks for the star’s support.

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So, keep your eyes peeled for green ribbons this October. The person wearing one is likely making a statement that they support mental health awareness. The Mental Health Foundation’s website states that those sporting a green loop should do so “to create walking safe spaces for people to talk about mental health.”

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It doesn’t have to be an October-only accessory, either. You can purchase a green ribbon pin through the Mental Health Foundation’s website and wear it year-round to show your support. The organization also encourages supporters to inspire their “friends and family to buy one and wear one with pride,” since taking care of your mental health should be a reason for self-regard and satisfaction.

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