The teen years are the ultimate time to discover who we are, and to experiment with some crazy stuff. Music and clothing are often important parts of that self-discovery process, but could the groups teens identify with say anything about their mental health? According to a fascinating and somewhat scary new study, the answer is yes.
We've all seen goth, emo and punk teens. Many have been there, or currently have teens that belong to these alternative subcultures. The new study shows that half of all teens from these alternative subcultures engages in self-harm, while one in five has attempted suicide.
Alternative Teens More Likely To Self-Harm And Attempt Suicide
Lead author of the new study Robert Young — a senior investigative scientist at the Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at University of Glasgow — was already familiar with some of the risks these teens might be facing.
Young and his team got together with researchers from University of Ulm in Germany for the new study. They wanted to find out why teens from certain alternative subcultures were attracted to self-harming behavior and suicide. The team questioned 452 14 and 15 year-old teenagers for the study, and they first asked how strongly the teens identified with specific youth cultures — nerd, jock, alternative, and so on.
The team also gathered data on the teens' socioeconomic background, immigration status, gender, and bullying history. All these factors can tell a lot about a teen's likelihood of attempting suicide or making other self-destructive choices. Though this was a pretty small sample, the outcome was quite significant. Belonging to goth, punk or emo subcultures was found to be a stringer predictor for attempted suicide or self-harm than repeated bullying.
"Alternative" teenagers were three to four times more likely to self-harm and six to seven times more likely to attempt suicide. We bet you'll never look at a goth, punk or emo teen in quite the same way!
How About Other Youth Cultures?
How about other youth cultures? The researchers found that "jocks" were least likely to self-injure, something the team thinks might have something to do with their regular physical activity. Exercise helps combat depression, after all. "Nerdy" teens — who concentrate on their academic achievements — were no more likely than other teenage groups to engage in harmful behavior towards themselves. Since there is a stereotypical idea that nerds don't have friends, that was surprising.
The study found that only a small minority of self-harming teens did so to feel more part of their respective group. The question that still remains is — do these alternative youth cultures cause the feelings that might lead to suicide or self-harm? Or could it be that teens who are already depressed or struggling with other mental health issues are then attracted to these groups? Depressive and suicidal people like to listen to depressing music; that much makes sense. But does listening to this kind of music, dressing in a certain way, and associating with similar teens cause or exacerbate depressive or suicidal feelings?