Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: It’s hard, if you’re of individual mind, to swim against the tide

Jane Brown from Leicestershire taking part in the Whitby Goth Weekend

Jane Brown from Leicestershire taking part in the Whitby Goth Weekend - Credit: PA

Teenagers who adopt the goth style are more susceptible than others to depression and self-harm, claims a study. This gem came to me via our national broadcaster’s news bulletin. There are times when I welcome an interruption of music by the news. Especially when it’s read by Moira Stewart, who doesn’t yet call it “the Nyeez”.

Ms Stewart is the sole remaining grown-up on Mr Shouty’s breakfast radio show, catering for our nation’s nine million “kidults”. The UK’s popular breakfast show is delivered by a team of bellowing metropolitans in their 40s, who laugh on cue and honk horns, whilst pretending that we, their listeners, are all together at some wacky celebrity party. “How crazy is thaaat?”

Wait a minute. Read me back that bit about goths being depressed. Who says so? Researchers at the University of Bristol, that’s who.

Golly. They’ve been quick off the mark. Goths as a subculture have existed since the early 1980s. They stereotypically wear black clothes with Lily Munster make-up, they loll wistfully in old cemeteries, read graphic novels and listen to doomy music. It’s only taken 30-odd years for the University of Bristol to deduce that gothy teenagers may be more prone to depression than other types.

Good job they weren’t assigned to crack the Enigma Code, isn’t it?

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I was slightly too old to be a goth, although when I first saw them I thought it was an interesting look ? beautiful, even ? if carried off well.

Just for the record, many teenagers seem prone to depression. I, for instance, spent much of my 16th year being... “hung up”, I believe we called it back then. I sank further and further, until I was dragged to a doctor and given some primeval anti-depressants. I was then given an accompanying card advising me never to eat broad beans, tinned fish, crab, cheese or Marmite with this medication. This was because I risked cerebral haemorrhage if I did so. Smart thing to give a distracted 16-year- old, hey?

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Within a few short months I gave up the medication, stopped seeing doctors and climbed out of the pit by myself. In retrospect, I now consider that I was merely being a typical moody teenager who liked rock music, had no girlfriend and affected the dress styles of his pop idols.

It doesn’t help your case when you dress differently. Other teenagers, and sometimes older people, will make it their business to insult you or, sometimes, beat you. This, they’ll tell you, is to “teach you a lesson”. I always remember the phrase whenever I learn that some goth and his girlfriend have been left with serious head injuries in a public park. “That’s what you get,” is another particular favourite of mine. Teenagers who dress differently may do so because they’re idealistic and creative. They may also have a desire to change the world around them, without yet any clear idea of where to begin.

Many, after surviving the tumult of adolescence, may find their way to jobs in arts or entertainment, where they’ll meet people similar to themselves. A few will take up teaching, or find jobs helping others worse off than themselves. A small proportion, however, having found the path too rocky, may slip slowly into mental illness or, worse, simply give up living.

Anyone persisting with a less-conventional approach to life chooses a difficult road. Survive that trip long enough, however, and, round about your middle-age, they might stop calling you mad, dubbing you “an eccentric” instead. The English are supposed to be a nation proud of eccentrics, although I’ve often had cause to doubt it.

Were I to wander into a supermarket in a Teddy-boy drape and colourful shirt, for example (it’s not been unknown) the looks I’ll receive from men of my own age can be interesting. A few will glower tetchily, almost as if I’m being a traitor to my sex by not looking mundane enough.

By comparison, whilst at Folk East in Suffolk last week, I noticed a bunch of burly fellows in fearsomely unconventional garb: blackened faces, top hats with peacock plumes, black breeches, yellow hose and heavy boots. These were the Witchmen, I learnt: unreconstructed pagan morris dancers, as different to ordinary morris men as Hell’s Angels to small-town bikers. The Witchmen are middle-aged, I’d guess, and probably have perfectly good weekday jobs. They hang around in a big group, too; and, importantly, they’re in the right place at the right time.

For those pale goths sitting in parks, or outside Colchester’s Firstsite building, it’s different. They’re only learners, after all. They won’t be as well-armoured as the Witchmen against the dull brickbats of mainstream culture.

So they’ve found that goths may become depressed? Really? I reckon I probably would, too.

Well, how many goths does it take to change a lightbulb? None. They’d all rather sit in the dark.

That’s what you get.

See more from Martin Newell here

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