Saturday, August 29, 2015

Goth Teens and Depression: An Open Letter to Parents



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 theeverydaygoth@yahoo.com and I'd be happy to discuss your child or your concerns about the Goth subculture.

Best,

Mary Rose,
The Everyday Goth

10 comments:

  1. Thank-you for writing this :) I was going to write something similar, aimed to parents, but in the end I wrote something that was a bit more my analytical style. This week I am going to focus on issues around depression and self-harm on my blog. I know it's a bit of serious and dark stuff, but I feel it needs to be addressed, both so there is a counter to some of false conclusions people will be making in the wake of this paper, and also to give advice to younger Goths who may be struggling with mental health issues. I was a depressed Goth teen - technically depression and anxiety as secondary to CPTSD - and there were adults with responsibilities towards me who didn't take me seriously because they thought it was some superficial Goth pretension, and people who assumed that I was depressed BECAUSE I was Goth, or that Goth was making it worse... Nothing could have been more diametrically opposite to what the actual role of Goth was in my life. Within Goth I found an acceptance and catharsis lacking in mainstream society and mainstream approaches to the darkness in life, and I think my participation in the Goth subculture was an incredibly positive influence. It helped me stop self-harming - something I only started again when I was going through my exploring-other-subcultures phase and simultaneously being very stressed about college exams and dealing with a rather unhealthy relationship that was in my opinion at least, rather toxic, and on leaving that relationship, I reverted to my Goth self as that seemed like it was the truly ME self, and I also haven't self-harmed again since then, despite dealing with some very stressful and turbulent life events, and I think it is because I now have friends and a community that form a really kind and loving support network, and because have found a way to approach all the awfulness I have experienced and endured that renders it less destructive. I don't know how much of a self-destructive person I would have become otherwise, but I think Goth has been a hugely positive and mentally healthy thing for me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great advice. I think some parents (as did mine) become so scared when they hear the word depression, because they don't know what to do about it. They love their children and it makes them feel powerless. They then jump on the things they can control, like what their child should wear/not, who the child should be allowed to interact with/not, etc. instead of educating themselves on what depression really is, and how to listen.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm 41 and living a happy goth life, not depressed at all. Tell the parents that it's not a phase :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was super depressed when I was "normal" now I am super happy

    ReplyDelete
  5. For some reason, I think I may have deleted part of my comment. I meant to write, I was super depressed when I was normal and now I am super happy. I know many people like me, as an adult who came back to goth and are happier now. I think there are too many loopholes in the study to be honest.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As a member of the medical profession (and soon to be carrying out medical research myself!), I'm actually very embarrassed by that study; aside from how poor the analysis is, it shows how conservative and snobbish a profession it is, which is appalling considering how we are handling the most vulnerable groups in society - particularly important in psychiatry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (I would make one edit to your post, however; the football club is just 'Celtic', not 'the Celtics'.)

      Delete
    2. Thank you! I was getting my countries confused ;)

      Delete
  7. Thank you for this. As a teenager, it was a constant fight to buy the music and clothes I liked, because my parents equated "goth" with depression, suicide, school shootings, etc., thanks to misinformed alarmists and their parental warnings in the news, magazines and those stupid "dear parents" pamphlets one ultra-religious neighbor would leave in every child's bag on Halloween.

    I actually did happen to suffer from depression during my teens. But it predated my interest in goth culture. In fact, some of my darkest moments came during a time where I was thirteen and still infatuated with boy bands. You just can't link mental illness with popular culture...it's completely irrelevant.
    And, for the record, goth subculture didn't cause me to spiral into deeper depression. In fact, if ANYTHING, it provided an artistic outlet for my sadness and aggression. I self-harmed for thirteen years (starting from the age of eleven). I made a conscious effort to quit and find more positive ways to cope with depression. And guess what? That decision was made during the peak of my gothiness. As of today, I'm over three years clean.

    There is so much depth and positivity in goth subculture, and if anybody would just open their mind long enough to do some research, they would see it. We originated from punks who basically grew up and searched for something deeper: writing lyrics that touch upon societal, psychological, theoretical and artistic concepts, rather than just the go-to anti-authority message.

    Yes, many of us like a dark aesthetic. Dark colors are dramatic and moody, and look great on everyone. We may or may not wear black all the time. It's an individual decision. Either way, it's just a color. Your teen will not be more or less depressed in black over pastel pink. This is strictly a matter of visual preference.
    Also, accessories, art and other subcultural kitsch: Bats are cool. Spooky movies are cool. Twisty, spiraly motifs that look like decor from a Tim Burton movie are cool (don't worry about understanding it--we don't either. It has no hidden meaning or symbolism. It just looks interesting).
    If your teenager is wearing something that GENUINELY offends you, simply talk to them without anger, drama or personal accusations. I never bought or wore anything featuring upside-down crosses or pentagrams for this very reason, because while it may not have any meaning to me, my deeply religious dad wouldn't have taken it so lightly. There's a good chance that your teenager will respect your feelings, if you talk to them like a rational adult.
    Also, if there is anything you DON'T understand, just ask your teenager. If you don't understand the appeal of a song that sounds (to you) like a funeral dirge, alternative comics full of cartoon gore or creepy maudlin artwork....just ASK. Ask them why they like something. Ask them what their favorite part of that thing is. Ask them what meaning they get out of it. Chances are, it's something benign and simple. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    ReplyDelete