By now, some of you may have heard me speaking on BBC Newcastle radio (21:00), or even the Today Programme on BBC Radio Four (48:00). You might have heard Sylvia from the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, on BBC Scotland radio or seen Stacey Elder on BBC Breakfast in London.
Has the Velvet Revolution finally occurred? Are the dark clad masses sweeping into Parliament, ready to put Natalie Bennett on a green and black throne? No – a new study has been released that identifies a heightened risk of depression and self-harm in teenagers identifying with the goth subculture.
That has been enough for the media who ran with that as their headline, only to grudgingly acknowledge further down their articles that the researchers concluded there was no evidence to indicate Goth could cause these conditions at all.
Interestingly, none of them have discussed the significant statistical breakdown – approximately 3,500 people aged 14 to 18 were surveyed, who were all from the Bristol and Avon area. Of this group, just 154 (4.5%) identified with the Goth subculture. Of that group, just 28 (18%) flagged indicators for clinical depression, and 57 (37%) identified as being self-harm risks. These figures and the means of interpreting them are professionally discussed by sociologist Dr. Paul Hodkinson at the bottom of this blog.
What has concerned the researchers is that these figures are so high compared to the other subcultures surveyed. They’ve correctly linked identifying with the Goth subculture and evidence of depression and self-harm, but as both Doctor Pearson and Doctor Bowes stress increasingly on Twitter, and in this excellent podcast, this isn’t evidence of causation!
That is something it would be helpful for the media to hang onto. They are falling, predictably and repeatedly, into the tactics of ‘othering’ which has proven so successful for sales and clicks, by rendering Goth as some dangerous and foreign ‘influence’ leading teens into depression.
Media organisations want some external force that leads to someone contracting a mental health problem. A great example surely would be this ‘morbid fascination’ with the dark and spooky, listening to depressing music, and dressing in a fashion more akin to mourning than happiness.
The reality is, the potential lies within all of us – 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, and 1 in 4 people in England will suffer from a mental health problem within a year. Goths, for the most part and in my personal experience, relish and engage with their melancholia and sadness, accepting it as a natural balance to happiness. Who can be truly happy all the time?
Of course, sadness is not quite as severe as actual depression. That media strategy of demonizing mental health, some irresistible ‘bogeyman’ come to corrupt people, can be seen as the root cause of higher proportions of depression and other mental health issues within Goth.
Mainstream society is suspicious and dismissive of problems like depression, whereas Goth is more familiar, more accepting of each other’s flaws. As a result, many people suffering will find themselves drawn to a more open society that actively disputes and rebels against mainstream opinions.
This made me wonder about other youth ‘tribes’ – those that all score so lowly in this survey about depression. As it’s purely self-declaratory, exactly how much would these young people tell us about their depression? Or are they inculcated with mainstream reluctance to engage with, discuss, or even acknowledge depression and the desire to self-harm? How much remains hidden, when Goths are given freer rein to discuss their problems?
Those are questions for society as a whole to field. Right now, I want to head off a lot of the media scaremongering, and reassure the parents of Goth teenagers, by doing again what the media fails to – point out the existence of mature, responsible and often even sane adult Goths!
In 2006, Dr. Dunja Brill of Sussex University produced a doctorate thesis exploring the lifestyles of Goths beyond their teenage years. She found that for the most part Goths were academic high-achievers with middle-class lives who went on to have successful jobs in respectable industries like law, architecture, and especially academia – Dr. Brill, Dr. Hodkinson, Dr. Catherine Spooner and many other academics who study Goth usaully have some personal involvement themselves!
Dr. Hodkinson followed up on his 1990 study of Goths by catching up with his subjects in 2011 – and discovering they were still embedded in the subculture. They had careers, families and all the adult responsibilities we are forced to embrace – but they hadn’t abandoned their alternative heritage. They were still proud of their interests.
Being into the Goth subculture should not be a cause of alarm for parents. It does not lead to developing depression or a longing to self-harm, as the Bristol researchers have repeatedly stated, and as Dr. Hodkinson has independently observed in his own blog. Instead, it’s a matter open to discussion and interpretation, that often helps people integrate their experiences with mental health into their lives and go on to enjoy themselves in a darkly-tinged creative fashion.
What people should really be concerned about is the lack of awareness displayed time and again by mainstream British media, and their tendency towards the lowest common denominator. I salute however those organisations that have reached out to the Goth subculture for our personal perspective.
I for one would be very keen to hear what those 150 Goths in Bristol make of this reporting.