Teens who identify very strongly with goth culture at age 15 are three times more likely to be clinically depressed and five times more likely to self-harm at age 18 than their non-goth peers, according to new research published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.
“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,” said lead author Dr. Lucy Bowes from the University of Oxford in the UK.
Previously, researchers had linked contemporary goth youth subculture with deliberate self harm, but until now whether this association was more attributable to the traits of young people, their families, or their circumstances was unclear.
The study used data from the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to investigate whether identifying with the goth subculture at age 15 is linked with depression and self-harm in early adulthood.
The analysis involved 3694 teenagers who provided information on self-harm and depressive mood and the extent to which they identified as a goth at 15 years, as well as their levels of depression and self-harm at age 18.
Participants were also asked about identification with a variety of other youth subcultures (i.e., sporty, popular, skaters, loners, etc.). 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, and teenagers who “very much” identified with the goth subculture were more than three times as likely to be depressed.
While a few other subcultures were also associated with adult depression and self-harm (i.e., 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.
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.
These included previous depression and self-harm, early emotional and behavioral difficulties, psychiatric disorder, history of bullying, and the mental health of their mothers.
As this is an observational study, no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the findings cannot be used to claim that becoming a goth causes an increased risk of self-harm and depression, say the researchers.
The researchers speculate that the goth subculture may provide an important source of validation and a community within which young people who do not conform with societal norms can be understood.
“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 marginalized individuals from all backgrounds, including those with mental health problems,” said co-author Dr. Rebecca Pearson from the University of Bristol in the UK.
“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, ostracized, or stigmatized by society. These young people may be attracted to like-minded goths who face similar stressors.”
Source: The Lancet