To the parents of Goth teenagers,
Hello, my name is Mary Rose. I'm a blogger here at The Everyday Goth and I discuss fashion, decor, music, literature, the social scene, and other facets of the Goth subculture. I'm a twenty-one year old student, employee, daughter, and sibling who has been in the Goth subculture for almost a decade now, and I want to talk to you about your Goth child.
The reason you're here, my guess being, is because of an article discussing the recent findings of the Lancet. For those of you not in the know, the British academic journal The Lancet published a study which reported that out of about 3,000 teenagers who were studied at both ages 15 and 18, those who identified with the label "Goth" in their self-reported questionnaires were more likely to be depressed at 15 and self-harm at 18 than their peers who chose other labels, including "chavs," "populars," "sporty," and others.
Of course, this kind of study prompts all kinds of ill-informed, scare-mongering articles from various news publications. I myself was invited onto BBC World Service radio to discuss the study and while I stand by the points I made, I thought I would reiterate them for those of you who weren't listening to the radio at six in the morning GMT.
The moment I heard about this article I knew what was going to happen. Firstly, I was going to get an e-mail from a young goth reader saying "I'm a Goth and my parents think I'm depressed so they're not letting me be a Goth anymore, but I'm not depressed. What do I do?" Or, even worse, "I'm a Goth and I do have depression but my parents are blaming my depression on being a Goth, so they're not letting me be a Goth but my depression is still going untreated. What do I do?"
You can imagine my distress with these kinds of e-mails. There's only so much I can suggest that these young Goths do. So, I wanted to write this letter to parents of Goth teenagers directly.
First and foremost, let's talk about what Goth is and is not. Goth is a subculture which came out of the United Kingdom in the 1980's as an offshoot of the dwindling punk movement. Goths are characterized by an interest in Goth music, darker fashion and aesthetic choices, and an appreciation for the darker side of beauty. You might recognize famous Goths in the media, such as the character Abby Scuito from the investigative television show NCIS, but many shows, especially those geared at kids and teenagers, have some kind of alternative, Gothy character. Goths come in all races, from all countries, and are of all ages (yes, even career-holding adults!)
The music that started it all might already be familiar to you, depending on your age. Famous groups include The Cure (with their famous 'Friday I'm in Love') and Depeche Mode (which British football fans will know from the Celtic anthem, 'Just Can't Get Enough') but there are, of course, more obscure groups as well. What defines Goth music is a complicated question and there is a lot of overlap in genres. Generally speaking, the genre involves a lot of emotional rawness in the lyrics, a certain reliance on 80's synthesizes, and a minor key.
You can look up "what is goth" articles and videos from many different Goths online and every one that I've found agrees with me on this next point: Goth does not endorse or encourage depression and destructive behaviors including self-harm, violence, or drug abuse. This stereotype is perpetuated by a scaremongering media with their own agendas, but it is just a stereotype.
Goths can and do lead normal, productive, happy lives. We go to school (and many of us do quite well,) we get married, we have careers, we have kids, we go to the grocery store, we go to church, we vote. We're normal people. Part of the reason I chose the moniker "The Everyday Goth" was to make the point that I'm a Goth and a normal human being. A student, an employee, a daughter, a friend.
So, I would ask that concerned parents of Goth teenagers not make assumptions about your child's mental health just because of this study.
Mental health stigma has lead to a lot of misconceptions about depression, that it's 'just' being sad all the time, or that one can just 'snap out of it.' If you'd like to learn more about depression, I'd recommend listening to this lecture by Andrew Solomon, 'Depression, the Secret We Share' and doing your own reading to help explain what depression is, where it comes from (hint: not wearing all black and listening to Bauhaus), and what can be done about it.
The Lancet study does not show that a teenager will become depressed just because they become a Goth. There are many other ways that this kind of correlation can come about, including that teenagers who are already depressed join the subculture in search of community and emotional support.
You see, the Goth subculture is full of people who have considered themselves "alternative" to the norm so we find comfort in each other--we are self-proclaimed freaks, weirdos, geeks, and creeps. We know what it's like to have people at school or at the office, or even just on the street, make rude comments about our appearances. There's a collective understanding of what it's like to be mocked for being different. The music we listen to is emotionally raw and shows an understanding of the darker side of life, so the subculture tends to have a very emotionally open atmosphere. In Goth, it's okay to admit you've had a bad day, or want to vent, and there's a great support network there for you whether you be venting on online communities like Tumblr or while sharing poetry with your friends in real life.
But, that being said, the media stereotype has caused a lot of negativity towards Goths which has some unpleasant side effects. Certain depressive conditions and self-harm can be caused (or at least exacerbated) by bullying, and Goth teenagers are often bullied more than their "popular" or "sporty," classmates. Many parents I know are terrified that their child will be bullied because they're a Goth. That's completely understandable, there are only so many things you can do when you send your child to school or camp or a youth program where kids are merciless and picky. However, if you try to stamp your child's Gothness out of them you are just going to become another bullying, oppressive force in your child's life. That's not a way to cultivate a good relationship with your child even if you have their best interests at heart.
Instead? Let your child know that you are on their side. Defend them if another relative or one of your friends makes a negative comment about their appearance. Stand up for your child and be clear that you support them. Don't make dismissive comments about it being a 'phase.' If you would like, do some reading on your own and study up on what Goth is. Gothic Charm School by Jillian Venters and What Is Goth? by Aurelio Voltaire are great books on the subject.
All I'm asking really is that if, as a parent, you're concerned about the mental health of your child, listen to them and support them before jumping to conclusions drawn from this study. That is the only way to be sure that you're taking care of your young Goth's mental health.
If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'd be happy to discuss your child or your concerns about the Goth subculture.
The Everyday Goth