Young Goths at Higher Risk For Depression, Self-Harm

A newly published study has found that young people who identify as being part of the goth subculture may have a high risk factor for being seriously depressed. However, the nature of that connection is somewhat ambiguous.

Goths and Depression

The study, conducted in Bristol, England, found that out of 5,357 teens that self-identified as goths, 3,694 of them had experienced some form of depression or had engaged in self-harming behavior. Goths are typically characterized as dressing in dark clothing, having a disdain for conformity, and a penchant for dreary post-rock music. Although the study found a high incidence of depression and self-harm among goth teens, it’s not clear if the lifestyle itself is depressing or if it merely attracts the depressed. The reason for the ambiguity is that goth culture has traditionally been welcoming to socially ostracized groups, such as those who struggle with mental illness.

The Chicken and The Egg

The Bristol study is not the first to find a link between the alternative lifestyle and depression. A 2006 study conducted in Scotland found that, “Identification as belonging to the Goth subculture was the best predictor of self-harm and attempted suicide.” However, the study’s researchers concluded that the correlation did not necessarily indicate causation; the teens that engaged in self-harming behavior did so before they began to self-identify as goths. Accordingly, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the newer study had similar results for the same reason.

Media Pressure

Another factor that might play into the connection between goths and depression may be the media’s coverage of the subculture. Though neither Eric Harris nor Dylan Klebold self-identified as goths, the pair were regularly labeled as such by a variety of media outlets in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Since then, there have been reports indicating that goths have been increasingly scrutinized by law enforcement and subjected to public ridicule and violent harassment. In 2013, the murder of a woman who identified as goth prompted the Greater Manchester Police to treat attacks on people who belong to alternative subcultures the same way they treat attacks on religious and racial minorities.

The Value of Being There

Given the inconclusive nature of the 2006 and 2015 studies on goth culture and depression, it’s clear that further inquiries will need to be conducted before any definitive conclusions are drawn. That said, if you have any young friends or loved ones who identify as goth, it might not be a bad idea to offer them emotional support. Given the stigma associated with the goth lifestyle, such support might have a significant positive impact. One of the main symptoms of depression is an overwhelming sense of isolation. The simple act of reminding a depressed person that they are not alone might be enough to convince them to seek help rather than self-harm.