At age 15, these teens are three times more likely to be clinically depressed and five times more likely to self-harm at age 18 than young people who do not identify with the Goth subculture, according to the study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Although the researchers found that some other subcultures were also associated with adult depression and self-harm, including “skaters” and “loners”, the association was strongest for Goths. Young people who self-identified as “sporty” were least likely to have depression or self-harm at age 18.
A goth is defined as “a member of a subculture favouring black clothing, white and black make-up, and Goth music”. A skater is a young person who enjoys skateboarding, skips school, and is rebellious; a loner is someone who chooses their own company over others; and a “sporty” person is someone who enjoys sport and may or may not partake, according to the definitions of young people who took part in the research.
The lead author, Dr Lucy Bowes of the University of Oxford in Britain, said their study did not show that being a Goth causes depression or self-harm, “but rather that some young Goths are more vulnerable to developing these conditions”.
Co-author Dr Rebecca Pearson, University of Bristol, said there was no reason for parents to discourage their teenagers from being a Goth on foot of the study findings.
“If they are not showing signs of clinical depression there is no reason to attempt to discourage them from expressing themselves. If you remove them from the company of people who share their feelings, it could make things worse,” Dr Pearson said.
Dr Gillian Moore-Groarke, a Cork-based consultant psychologist who has worked with adults and teenagers for 25 years, said most Goth teenagers she had encountered in her clinic “just don’t want to fit the expected norm and have found the Goth image as a way of expressing their frustrations with the expectations of their peers”.
“I could just as well be talking to a young sports fanatic who might feel like self-harming, or who had clinical levels of depression, as a Goth,” Dr Moore-Groarke said.
The research, “Risk of depression and self-harm in teenagers identifying with Goth subculture”, analysed the contributions of 3,694 teens who provided information on self-harm and depressive mood and the extent to which they identified as a Goth at 15 years, and their self-reported depression and self-harm at age 18.
The researchers found Goth identification remained a strong predictor of future self-harm and depression even when a wide range of other individual, family, and social factors that are known to increase the risk of self-harm and depression were taken into account, including previous depression and self-harm, early emotional and behavioural difficulties, psychiatric disorder, history of bullying, and the mental health of mothers.
Writing in a linked Lancet comment, Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow said clinicians working with adolescents who show “an interest in Goth subculture and displaying signs of Goth identification should be aware of the increased risk of depression and self-harm in later adolescence”.
“Further monitoring and assessment of self-harm risk is recommended for these young people,”said Dr O’Connor of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory in University of Glasgow.