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).
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.
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!".
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.