Goth subculture linked with history of suicide and self harm

A Scottish study that collected information from 1,258 teenagers when they were aged 11, 13, 15 and 19 has found particularly high rates of attempted suicide and self harm (cutting, scratching, or scoring) among those who said they identified with the Goth subculture.

Of the 15 teenagers who described themselves as heavily into Goth culture at age 19, 53 per cent said they’d self harmed at some stage in their lives, and 47 per cent said they had tried to kill themselves. By contrast, of the 1165 teenagers who said they didn’t identify at all with the Goth culture, only 6 per cent reported they had previously self harmed, and just 5 per cent reported ever having tried to kill themselves.

Other factors associated with self harm and suicide were being female, having divorced or separated parents, smoking and drug taking, and prior depression. But even controlling for these factors, identification with the Goth subculture remained the strongest predictor of self harm and suicide.

Among the other 14 common youth subcultures that the teenagers were asked about, several others, including Punk and Mosher, were also associated with an unusually high prevalence of self harm and suicide, although to a lesser extent than Goth.

Whether the Goth culture plays a causal role in people’s self harm and/or suicide, or if instead people who self harm are drawn to the Goth culture remains unclear. Of the 25 participants who said they had at some point in their lifetime identified with Goth culture, five had harmed themselves before identifying with Goth, two afterwards and four at about the same time.

Robert Young, lead researcher on the study, said: “Since our study found that more reported self-harm before, rather than after, becoming a Goth, this suggests that young people with a tendency to self harm are attracted to the Goth subculture. Rather than posing a risk, it’s also possible that by belonging to this subculture young people are gaining valuable social and emotional support from their peers.”
Young, R., Sweeting, H. & West, P. (2006). Prevalence of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide within contemporary Goth youth subculture: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ, Online First. DOI:10.1136/bmj.38790.495544.7C.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to responses to this research on the BMJ site.
Link to research centre.
Link to blog article on how the media report on Goths.