Anyone of a Gothy persuasion who can drive the internet without L-plates will know that the recently published results of a study into Goth and its correlation with depression in teenagers is the current hot potato on the Goth Wide Web.
The study was undertaken by researchers at the University of Oxford and partner institutes, funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. It used 2,000 teenagers as its subject, and sought to establish whether people who self-identify as Goths at the age of fifteen are more apt to suffer from depression and self-harm by the age of eighteen. The full details of the study and its results can be read online for free, here.
The peer-reviewed study found that, after adjustments were made to take into account the history of the teenagers studied, including any previous mental health or behavioural problems in their earlier lives, self-identified Goths were about 25% more likely to suffer from depression by the time they reached eighteen, and about 33% more likely to have self-harmed as well, when compared to non-Goths.
The study also found that teenagers who self-identified as Goth were more likely to be female, and also, to have mothers who had a history of depression, or to have been bullied when younger, or to have already displayed signs of emotional/behavioural issues or depression by the age of fifteen.
Cause and effect
If you simply look at the study on a very shallow level (lookin’ at you, Daily Mail…) it is all too easy to scream in agreement with what certain church-types and other anti-Goths have been saying for years: the Goth subculture is dangerous and harmful, and can have a direct and negative effect on one’s mental health and general emotional wellness.
However, most of your less-seedy media offerings aren’t drinking the Koolaid on this one, and rightly so. As stated above, many of the study’s teens who self-identified as Goth already had several warning markers in place by the time they reached their teens, such as a history of bullying, depression, behavioural issues, or a parent with depressive tendencies.
You can’t make somebody dark, but you can provide them with the tools to help them to identify with their inner darkness, and allow them to explore it.
And that, to my mind, is what is really happening here… Teenagers who were already struggling with issues like depression (whether they had a label for it or not), feelings of “otherness” or a penchant for the dark side would naturally gravitate towards the subculture that answered this: Goth.
I strongly believe this, because it is a pretty good explanation of what my teen years were like; I was heading down the Goth route by the time I was around 14, at which point I was having problems in school, both of my parents were suffering from depression, and I myself was, as I can now confidently say upon reflection, suffering from clinical depression, anxiety and OCD-type thought patterns, before I even bought my first black eyeliner and Cure album.
And lo and behold, at 17 I started self-harming, and as a young adult, it was very obvious to me that I was prone to depression and anxiety, although I never actually sought help for this or got a formal diagnosis until I was about 26.
If you feel “other,” or like you’re a passenger of life rather than a participant in it; if you have nothing in common with most of your peers in school, and find them shallow, judgemental and generally objectionable; if pop music isn’t ringing your bell and you have zero interest in looking “cute” in pastels and flower prints, and you seem to have a genuine knack for seeing and identifying the hidden darkness in everything…
Then yep, you’re going to end up writing some truly insufferable poetry and worrying your parent’s sick, but also, you’re going to be strongly attracted to the Goth world.
Goth culture is one of the few obvious outlets for young people that lets them dip their toe into the waters of their own darker feelings, and if they so choose, wade right in, get immersed, and really splash around in them. This is good. This is important. This is healthy. This is survival.
This sense of identity and a place to belong and explore such feelings without being labelled as weird (within the safety of that group) is what gets some teens through their horrible formative years, and helps to make them into balanced, self-aware adults.
It’s all good.
Goth doesn’t cause depression. I think it helps people to deal with it.
If you’re a Goth teen who is having problems talking about this sort of thing with your parents, or if you are the parent of a Goth who is concerned about your child’s choices, please consider reading The Everyday Goth’s open letter to concerned parents regarding Goth and depression.