My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Goths, Depression and Assumptions

It is often assumed that Goths are always depressed, or if not actually depressed, putting on a pretentious dour attitude, but this is rarely (but not never) the case. In this post I want to explore these two different assumptions, give my view of what the reality is, and ponder why these assumptions come about.

This was inspired by a comment in February by
Juliana Matiushenok, who asked me quite a few questions (which I answered directly in the comments section - all my readers should feel free to ask me questions and see my contact page for how). It got me thinking on the myths surrounding Goth and depression.

Firstly, they are actually different assumptions, and I think they come from different logic. There is a vast gulf between actually being depressed and merely appearing depressed through melancholy melodrama, and conflating them probably doesn't reflect the logic of the assumptions, and secondly could potentially add to the stigmas already surrounding mental health (for example that saying your stressed or depressed is a way of garnering attention, or 'wussing' out rather than a clinical diagnosis of anything being wrong). 

The first assumptions is that Goths are depressed people, and that our music and fashion choices are perhaps an expression of that inner turmoil or even some kind of vicious cycle in which we become Goth as a reaction to negative emotions, but then surround ourselves in negative imagery and make it all worse. While perhaps some people do wear dark imagery as expression of inner sadness, I think that most depressed people don't (although they may perhaps  do the opposite and deliberately wear bright "happy" looking clothes to try and mask it,  and in severe cases some people start neglecting personal grooming and care) and that most Goths are not depressed.

There are, of course, Goths who are depressed, but I have never met a Goth that has seriously joined the subculture as a response to being depressed.

I have met Goths who have joined the subculture as a reaction and rebellion against circumstances that they have found depressing, but Goth in these cases was being used as a visual way of appearing the antithesis of their very conservative upbringings, not as an outward symbol of depression.

Goths, in general, do not shy away from dark things, and I think that within the subculture there is no taboo against talking about painful emotions, unhappiness and misery - in fact, these things are often seen as creative fuel to be worked through, or at least expressed through, art, poetry and music. It may be that Goths are therefore safe company to those who are experiencing these emotions, people more likely to listen than be judgemental and consider them insane, a drag, or no longer nice to be around for talking about their pain. I am not saying, of course, that all Goths are good listeners, or non-judgemental - no generalisation like that could be accurate - but that a subculture where exploring the darkness is encourage is likely to be tolerant of people experience personal darkness first-hand.

Goths are made up from a broad cross-section of society, and in that will include a number of people with various mental health issues, so statistically there has to be a few Goths for whom there is no link between mental health issues and joining the subculture (perhaps the onset of any mental health issues came long after joining the subculture, for example).

Goths are generally on the fringes of youth culture at schools, colleges and universities. Quite often they are the victims of bullying, sometimes on the basis of them being Goth, but quite often the 'Goth crowd' become a refuge for all sorts of eccentrics and misfits who seek the company of others on the outside. Some of these people never become Goths themselves, only associate with Goths, others join the subculture through exposure to it through these new friends. Being an outsider, whether through bullying, experiencing a condition such as Asperger's which can make socialising quite difficult, or simply through having virtually nothing in common with your peers can be quite a lonely experience bringing about low moods and even depression.

I don't think being Goth has a negative effect on Goths - I don't think that the morbid imagery and somber music actually make most depressed Goths more depressed, I would actually say that in my experience, and in the experiences of those I have talked to, Goth has actually provided a relief. There is the support of a friendship network within the community, the subculture can also exist as a section of life away from factors that make things worse (an escape), the music often has a cathartic effect and for many it is powerful to hear others in music, or through art or literature express and explore their pain because it is proof that they are not alone in their experiences (or, often, in their response to those experiences) and, as I mentioned earlier, Goths often encourage each other to use creativity as a way to cope with painful things. I certainly remember being encouraged to write poetry, letters-never-to-be-sent and songs as ways of expressing negative feelings and getting them out of my head, even if I wasn't comfortable with sharing them directly.

At the core, Goth is a set of musical, aesthetic and conceptual preferences; it is liking the dark, the morbid, the frightening, and seeing beauty in it - from the lyrics of Siouxsie Sioux songs where she sings about serial killers (Night Shift) and twisted obsessions (Head Cut; involves decapitation fantasies),  to having a fascination with death or the undead (vampires, zombies, etc.) - if we found these things frightening, but not in the scintillating way of a horror movie that is a controlled and exciting sort of fear, but in a genuine terror, or if we found them depressing, or if they made us unhappy in any other way, then we wouldn't take part in them. We are not wallowing in our misery, consuming music and other creative endeavours that make us more depressed, or deliberately joining a subculture of depression - we actually enjoy the music and art and fashion; they produce a positive response in us. I think this is the part that non-Goths find hardest to believe, that things that would produce a negative response in them produce the exact opposite in us, but that is the way things are. We are the people who go "Oooo! Cool!" where others go "Ack! Eek!".

The other assumption is that Goths put on a deliberately dour and pseudo-depressed attitude, as a way of garnering attention, upsetting their parents, and possibly fitting in with other Goths.

Sadly, I have seen this happen, and I think it happens in the Emo subculture too, and I have come across an angry/violent rather than depressed variant of this within the Metal subculture. It is normally among younger teens trying to on one hand rebel and on the other, impress the other rebels, and who are woefully wrong about how to do both (and not too wise in wanting to do either, but at that age I think it is often understandable). This, of course, is not an accurate representation of the majority of the subculture (many of whom are MUCH older!), or even a good representation of teen Goths, but it does happen, and because these youngsters are often actively seeking attention (sometimes taking drastic measures) these are the Goths who end up noticed most, giving a skewed picture.

My advice to Babybats - do not needlessly worry your parents and those who care about you with feigned depression (especially not going as far as self-harming for attention, or as faked 'proof' of the sincerity of the supposed depression) as a way to garner sympathy or even as a form of emotional blackmail. There are better ways to get attention (such as taking up a performance art where you can literally be centre stage) and better ways of getting what you want (such as striking a bargain like "If I get all As in my tests at the end of term, can I dye my hair black?"). There are negative repercussions for genuinely depressed people; my genuine mental health issues were dismissed on several occasions (by adults who should have known better, as well as my peers) as attention-seeking as a teenager, and I think that being a female teenager and a Goth had a lot to do with that.

Also, being pretentiously "more woeful than thou" does not impress other Goths - I have never met a Goth that esteems others higher based on how much they are suffering or how deep their misery. Yes, we tend to value art that is based on genuine emotion over that which is capitalising on negative experiences as a marketing ploy or as part of a trend (see ::this:: post!), but in trying desperately to convince other Goths of your true suffering and that you are the darkest soul to have ever unlived, then your not much better than the bands singing about suicide and misery when neither suicidal nor miserable, and doing so in poor pastiche.

My advice to the genuinely depressed: seek help, talk to others, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if necessary; do not suffer in silence. Art, music and poetry can really offer a means of venting and a form of catharsis; they certainly worked for me. Often depression occurs as a result of too many negative circumstances at once (bereavement, loneliness, debt and poverty, bullying, a lack of acceptance, dysfunctional family dynamics, etc. etc.) and they can seem overwhelming as a whole, but there is often a solution, even if it is one that can only be worked on slowly and in small sections. There are also those who suffer persistent low mood as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain rather than as a result of difficult circumstances, and medication can help with that. Exercise is a surprisingly effective way of feeling better.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting. Considering the original "Goths"-Got(h)land, Visigoths- were considerably different from this last 50-80 yrs (i.e. beat-nicks, to pseudo-dark occultism of the 60's), the transmutation through time has been cultured by fringe expressionism. Amalgamation of the various strains of memetic ideologies has somehow found its new flavor in the eccentricism, romantic, and cyber flavors of goth expounded in this present decade. I dare say that "emo" have become apart of this "primodial-gothic-stew"(bleh). Great article.

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    1. I am not entirely sure of Emo's place as a subsection of Goth; Goth as a subculture based on a music genre, and a descendent or evolution of punk whereas Emo's musical lineage has its roots in metal. As a form of dark youth culture, there is often little between a Babybat Goth and an Emo in terms of appearances, perhaps in terms of reading material (young adult supernatural romance novels seem particularly popular) and even in musical taste, as many young wannabe Goths, lured by the aesthetic and the appreciation for the dark side, start off unaware of a musical connection decades older than they are, and erroneously believe what are in fact various subgenres of Metal to be Goth.

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  2. Assumptions can be so damaging. One of my mum's friends was supposedly a psychiatrist or counsellor of some sort and told my mum most goths were depressed and on drugs. Cue teenage hell for me until the day I left home. If I was ever depressed it was because of the opression of my goth self by others, hence the opposite reason that most would think. I spent my time being happy when I could do Goth things, but constantly being told you are a freak by your parents is pretty miserable. I was sad not because of being a goth, but people trying to make me not be a goth. I am so jealous of friends whose parents accept them as they are. Things are ok between us now, but it's painful to think of my own parents rejecting who I was during one of the most vulnerable times in your developmental life.

    On the bright side, after all that, I turned out ok. I am a creative darkly inclined person and there are those that appreciate me.

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    1. I am sorry to hear of what happened when you were younger, but as you said, you have turned out OK, and it is good to hear that things are better between you and your parents. It especially saddens me when people in professional roles are misinformed about Goth and spread that misinformation, especially when it can be harmful as you have described. Hopefully with the good work of many people, including the likes of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, some of the older erroneous assumptions and supposed "information" floating about will be replaced with a more accurate picture.

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  3. Your point on Asperger's Syndrome is well made. As a person with Asperger's, I agree that it can be quite lonely, even more so before being diagnosed.
    I myself joined the subculture because the only people I ever talked to who wouldn't be mean were the 'Goth Kids' at my school. The more I talked to them, the more I realized how much I love this subculture and the people in it.
    5 years later and look at me. Friends and the whole shebang because of one Goth talking to me in year seven.

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    1. I'm glad you've had a positive experience with the Goth community. I won't state exactly who in my family has Asperger's, for the sake of their privacy, but I can assure you it is a familiar plight to me. The other Goths I have met have generally been very accepting of different perspectives, and not the sorts to think of someone as bad or weird because they may not be as socially fluent or socially perceptive as some, and with as much, if not more, emphasis on quieter and solitary pursuits as with clubbing, there are plenty of ways to be part of the scene that are comfortable for those with sensory issues, or who are uncomfortable in large gatherings.

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  4. Back when I was in high school the principal thought I was depressed and on drugs... just because I was who I am. He kept making my days at high school an actual hell. However the issue motivated me to know my rights as a student and take the situation under control.

    Haters gonna' hate and ignorants will ignore the truth. :P

    On another note, living with a chemical imbalanced family has helped me understand many hues on this subject and I truly find this a great article.

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    1. I have had people assume I am on drugs because I happen to have hyperactivity issues - it's just the way I am, though!

      Although I can't tell if your high school principal based his assumptions on your subcultural affiliation or not from your comment, as I said in my response to Laura Morrigan, t especially saddens me when people in professional roles are misinformed about Goth and spread that misinformation, especially when it can be harmful as you have described. Hopefully with the good work of many people, including the likes of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, some of the older erroneous assumptions and supposed "information" floating about will be replaced with a more accurate picture.

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  5. I tend to be melancholy often; especially, during the darker months of the year and my love of melancholy music reflects these feelings. Still, I find happiness in acknowledging these moods. Feeling melancholy and introspective does not equal depression or unhappiness.

    It's good to see you posting again.

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  6. I tend to fall into a melancholy mood quite often; especially, during the darker months of the year and when I'm by myself. I'm not unhappy during those times; I'm just feeling darker, more creative and more pensive.

    I'm glad to see that you've gotten something new up on your blog. It's always nice reading what you've got to say.

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    1. I often struggle for words these days - I'm not sure of what is important or interesting enough to blog about!

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