Goth Teens at Greater Risk of Depression and Self-Harm: Study

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A new study says teens who identify as goths are at greater risk of self-harm and depression. Here, a woman poses for photographs during a goth festival in Whitby, northern England, on April 28, 2013. Nigel Roddis/Reuters

Teens who identify as goths are at greater risk of depression and self-harm, according to a new study conducted by researchers in the U.K.

Confirming a long-held stereotype that teens who gravitate toward gloomy music and black hair dye are inherently sad, the study found that teens who identify strongly with the goth subculture at age 15 are three times more likely to be depressed and five times more likely to inflict self-harm at 18 than their non-goth peers. The findings were 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," Dr. Lucy Bowes, a psychology professor at the University of Oxford and the study lead author, said in a statement.

Goths are defined in the study as rebelling against social norms and attitudes, which could be a key factor in depression and self-harm, Bowes said.

Researchers interviewed 3,694 15-year-olds around Bristol, a city in southwestern England, who identified with eight subcultures: goths, "sporty," "populars," "skaters," "chavs" (a British slang term defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behavior"), "loners," "keeners" (enthusiastic, driven and academic), and "bimbos." Teens who identified as skaters and loners were also at higher risk than normal for self-harm and depression, but rates among goths were the highest by far, according to the study.

And the more intensely teens identify as goths, the higher their likelihood of having depression or doing self-harm, the study said. Compared with young people in other subcultures, teens who "somewhat" identified as goths were 1.6 times more likely to have scores within the clinical depression range when they reached 18. Those who "very much" identified as goths were three times as likely.

Because it's an observational study, researchers say "no definitive conclusions" can be drawn from the study, and the findings "cannot be used to claim that becoming a goth causes an increased risk of self-harm and depression." Rather, teens who align with the goth subculture often find a place of validation alongside other young people who feel ostracized and isolated from society (and who possibly have a fondness for listening to the Cure).

"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 in a statement.

The researchers said more work needs to be done to identify and support young goths.