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Goth teens at higher risk of depression and self-harm

Young goths three times more likely to be depressed, says study

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 28 August 2015

Teenagers who identify with the goth subculture appear to be more likely to have depression and could self-harm, according to research* published today in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

UK researchers found that being a goth – someone who follows a subculture favouring black clothing, white and black make-up, and dark, alternative art and music – did not cause depression or self-harm in itself, but some young goths appeared to be more vulnerable to developing these conditions.

Depression and self-harm are common among teenagers with as many as one in five 15-year-olds in England saying that they self-harm.

Previous research has suggested that deliberate self-harm is associated with contemporary goth subculture in young people, but until now, whether this association is confounded by the characteristics of young people, their families, or their circumstances is unclear.

Researchers from several universities used data from the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to investigate whether identifying with the goth subculture at age 15 was linked with depression and self-harm in early adulthood.

They analysed results from 3,694 teenagers 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.

Participants were also asked about identification with a variety of other youth subcultures (such as “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.

Teenagers who identified very strongly with being a goth at age 15 were 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.

Although some other subcultures were also associated with adult depression and self-harm (skaters and loners), the association was strongest for goths, while for young people who self-identified as “sporty”, they were the least likely to have depression or self-harm at age 18.

Even when a wide range of other individual, family, and social factors known to increase the risk of self-harm and depression – including previous depression and self-harm, early emotional and behavioural difficulties, history of bullying – were taken into account, goth identification remained a strong predictor of future self-harm and depression.

This was an observational study, no definitive conclusions could be drawn about cause and effect, and the findings could not be used to claim that becoming a goth caused an increased risk of self-harm and depression, said the researchers.

They speculated that the goth subculture could provide an important source of validation and a community within which young people who did not conform to societal norms could be understood.

Co-author Dr Rebecca Pearson from the University of Bristol, said: “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, including those with mental health problems.

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

* Dr Lucy Bowes, et al. Risk of depression and self-harm in teenagers identifying with goth subculture: a longitudinal cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry. Published Online: 27 August 2015. DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00164-9

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