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Teen goths ‘more vulnerable’ to depression and self-harm

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Young people who adopt the “goth” subculture might be at increased risk of depression and self-harm, according to UK researchers.

Teenagers who identified very strongly with being a “goth” at the age of 15 were found to be three times more likely to be clinically depressed and were five times more likely to self-harm at age 18 than young people who did not identify with the goth subculture.

Lead researcher Dr Lucy Bowes, from Oxford University, said: “Our study does not show that being a goth causes depression or self-harm, but rather that some young goths are more vulnerable to developing these conditions.”

Contemporary goth youth subculture has been linked with deliberate self-harm, but until now whether this association is confounded by the characteristics of young people, their families or their circumstances was unclear, said the researchers in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

They analysed data on 3,694 teenagers to investigate whether identifying with the goth subculture at age 15 was linked with depression and self-harm in early adulthood.

Participants were also asked about identification with a variety of other youth subcultures – “sporty”, “populars”, “skaters”, “chavs”, “loners”, “keeners”, and “bimbos”.

The researchers found that the more young people identified with the goth subculture, the higher their likelihood of self-harm and depression.

For example, compared to young people who did not identify as a goth at age 15, those who “somewhat” identified as a goth were 1.6 times as likely to have scores in the clinical range for depression at age 18.

“Teenagers who are susceptible to depression or with a tendency to self-harm might be attracted to the goth subculture”

Rebecca Pearson

Those who “very much” identified as belonging to the goth subculture were more than three times as likely to be depressed.

Although some other subcultures were also associated with adult depression and self-harm – skaters and loners – the associated was strongest for goths.

Young people who self-identified as “sporty” were least likely to have depression or self-harm at age 18.

“Teenagers who are susceptible to depression or with a tendency to self-harm might be attracted to the goth subculture which is known to embrace marginalised individuals from all backgrounds,” said study co-author Dr Rebecca Pearson, from Bristol University.

“Alternatively, the extent to which young people self-identify with the goth subculture may represent the extent to which at-risk young people feel isolated, ostracised, or stigmatised by society,” she said.

“These young people may be attracted to like-minded goths who face similar stressors,” she added.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Its hardly a surprise! Self wallowing listening to depressing thrash metal would make anyone depressed whereas we all know exercise helps fight off depression so the sporty types not being so likely to have it is to be expected. We all need to be more active.

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  • David Solomon

    As much as I appreciate the lancet psychiatry findings, the figures are still a minority compared to the wider population in the UK. Subcultures such as gangs tend to target the vulnerable, unconfident and "unstable" teen. I think the message from the media should be "what to do if my gothic child self-harms, becomes depressed or confused?" I dont think targetting someones makeup, black clothes or big boots will do self harming teens justice.

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  • As Goth myself and have been since around 13 (now 22 and working with youths) i see this story as a mixed message and yet again the media has blown it up and twisted words. They themselves should be promoting how to seek help if you are feeling depressed/self harming etc rather than giving it a stigma/bad press making suffers feel more isolated/judged than they may already feel.

    As much as these findings are some what "state the obvious" too some, it has only used a tiny sample frame, which doesn't portray the teen goths fairly at all!
    Yes the culture is stereo typically associated with depression and the likes, but thats not to say on the whole, it is a culture any more likely to have teens in who are "unstable" than any other teenage subculture.
    I just think many Alternative groups such a goth,punk,emo etc are much more open and willing to talk about mental health and tabo topics (that the rest of society seem to shun away/keep hush over) therefore it seems like there are more "unstable" teens present, when in reality it's not really that different from any other teen subculture. If anything as a community many goth groups will pull together and try and help each other out if we know someones suffering.


    As for the 1st comment on this article on the music front:
    there have been many other studies conducted over the years showing listening to "sad/depressing" music when you feel low etc can actually help improve your mood and benefit your mental health!

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