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The Modern Goth Subculture: Who Are These Youths, and is the Goth Rate of Self-Harm Really Higher Than Normal?

Goths. If you've walked into a U.S. junior high or high school recently (or even in the past couple of decades), you've seen them. The group of guys and girls dressed in mostly black, some with pale, almost whitish skin, dark lips and nails, dark flowing dresses and skirts (aka Victorian or Renaissance era), fishnets, a studded collar or two and plenty of buckles.

The Goths are a subculture that emerged out of the late '70s, early '80s punk scene. At the heart of the gothic subculture is their resistance to being defined, which of course makes describing them somewhat difficult.


The Goth subculture emerged from the late-'70s punk scene and now involves wearing dark clothing and embracing the darker things in life., a resource set up for the "benefit of the Goth community," defines Goths as, "A group of people who feel comfortable within each other's company. There is no specific thing that defines what you need to do or be to fit into the Goth scene (except of course the implied black clothing). People in the Goth scene all have different musical tastes, follow different religions, have different occupations, hobbies, and fashion sense."

"Spurned by Normal Society"

The major binding factor among Goths seems to be their sense of detachment from "normal" society, and a feeling that they do not fit in within these normal circles.

"Most Goths become Goths because they have been spurned by 'normal' society, because the way they want to live their lives does not fit in with how most people are told to live theirs," reads

Members of the Gothic community define themselves as free thinkers. While outsiders looking in often see the Goth way of life as dark and rather morbid, "Goth unashamedly celebrates the dark recesses of the human psyche," according to A Goth Primer Web site, which includes "dark sensuality, sweeping sadness, morbid fascination, forbidden love, the beauty of enduring pain …"

"Many people lead unhappy, unachieved lives … Goth makes depression and angst a lifestyle choice, and that's art," A Goth Primer continues.

Stereotypes: Are Violence, Paganism and Death a Part of the Goth Subculture?

The characteristic "Goth" is reclusive and melancholy, yet smart, and many come from educated backgrounds. Goths do wear mostly dark clothing and share a general dissatisfaction with society and/or a desire to be different.

Music, art and literature are also part of the Goth subculture. Music can include a number of dark, tragic and mysterious sounds, including bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Fields of the Nephilim, and the Sisters of Mercy (however, some also mention a large '80s music following among the Goth community).

In a new study, 53 percent of youths in the Goth subculture reported self-harming behaviors, compared to 7-14 percent in the general youth population.

Violence, however, is not a part of the traditional Goth scene, with most members describing themselves as pacifistic, open-minded and accepting of everyone. And, modern Goths do not associate with any religion. They are not Satanists, as is commonly thought, but instead encompass a wide range of religions, from Christianity to Buddhism.

Goth: Helpful or Harmful?

After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, there was considerable backlash against the Goth subculture, as it was initially thought that the two teen killers belonged to the group. However, this has been disputed by many, including those inside the Goth culture, who point out that violence is not a Goth philosophy.

"Violence is not really what Goths are all about. They're not particularly out for trouble," said Nancy Kilpatrick, author of The Goth Bible. "Anybody who plans to kill other people is troubled. I don't think the focus should be on what category they fall into."

Still, many wonder whether the dark clothing and focus on morose music, drawings and conversation can possibly be healthy.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal did find some telling results. After quizzing 1,258 young people about self-harm and their links to various youth cultures, it was found that Goths had the strongest link to self-harm.

While the rate of self-harm among young people in general turned out to be between 7 and 14 percent, 53 percent of those linked to the Goth subculture reported self-harm, and 47 percent had attempted suicide.

"Although only fairly small numbers of young people identify themselves as belonging to the Goth subculture, rates of self-harm and attempted suicide are very high among this group," said Robert Young, lead researcher of the Glasgow University study.

He did point out, however, that the results were based on small numbers, as only 25 study participants said they felt strongly associated with the Goth subculture.

It's suspected that, rather than the Goth subculture influencing teens to harm themselves, youths who are prone to this behavior may be drawn to the group.

"One common suggestion is they may be copying subcultural icons or peers," Young said. "But 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."

In this way, the subculture may actually be helpful.

"Rather than posing a risk, it's also possible that by belonging to the Goth subculture, young people are gaining valuable social and emotional support from their peers," Young said.

To add to the mystery surrounding Goths, it turns out that the "real" Goths may actually be the ones who say they are not. According to

" … Truth be told that many people who are Goth or who associate themselves with the scene don't call themselves Goths because they find it too limiting or find that others stereotype them based on that one label, rather than seeing the sum of the parts.

Too often there are people that try too hard to fit the label and completely pass by the fact that being Goth is as much about being yourself and finding your own path rather than rigidly trying to fit the stereotypes."

Recommended Reading

The Choking Game: The Deadly Game Surging in Popularity Among (Even the Smartest) Kids & Teens

Crystal Meth Abuse Skyrocketing in Big Cities to Small Towns: Why, and What are the Signs and Risks?


Reuters April 17, 2006

New Scientist April 14, 2006

Courier Post Online April 8, 2006

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