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19 December 2002
Holiday Season Brings On Risky Sexual Behavior
by George Atkinson

Results of a new survey released today by the New York University Child Study Center show that there is an extraordinary crisis of untreated depression and anxiety among American adolescents, particularly adolescent girls. Among depressed girls, 54% report feeling more depressed and sad during the holiday season, while only 19% of depressed boys indicate that the holiday season negatively affects their mood.

More than 400 teens between the ages of 13 and 19 participated in Internet interviews between December 3 and 6, 2002. This survey, conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc., and led by the NYU Child Study Center, is the first ever National Holiday Teen Mood Survey. Results of the national survey reveal that many teens experience feelings of depression and sadness that often go untreated.

9 out of 10 adolescents reported they have experienced feelings of depression or sadness; 43% of adolescent girls, and 28% of adolescent boys have experienced periods of depression that last at least two weeks. More than 80% of these depressed teens have never received treatment for their symptoms. This data reconfirms the 1999 Mental Health Report from the Surgeon General which stated that only 1 out of 5 children with a psychiatric illness receive treatment.

Furthermore, the holiday season seems to promote dangerous and risky behaviors among a significant number of depressed adolescents. Depressed adolescents are more likely to drink alcohol, take non-prescription drugs and have sex, compared to their peers who have not experienced bouts of depression. This is particularly true among depressed girls with nearly four out of ten reporting that they are more likely to drink alcohol during the holidays. In addition they are more likely to engage in other at-risk behaviors such as taking drugs and having sex than girls who are not depressed:

  • 70% of depressed girls drink vs. 58% of girls who are not depressed
  • 55% of depressed girls take non-prescription drugs vs. 39% of girls who are not depressed
  • 35% of depressed girls are sexually active vs. 23% of girls who are not depressed

"We know that teens that suffer from depression and do not receive treatment are at higher risk for abusing substances and engaging in risky behavior," said Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., Director of the New York University Child Study Center and author of More Than Moody: Recognizing and Treating Adolescent Depression (Putnam, 2002), "This survey shows that not only are depressed teens more at risk throughout the year, but that this risk increases during the holiday season. Depressed teenagers are more sensitive to the environment than depressed adults therefore parents must be more alert during the holiday season for signs and symptoms of depression in their adolescents. "

Nearly half of adolescents (49%) report feelings of anxiety and worry that they perceive to be worse than those of their peers.

  • 46% of boys and 51% of girls have felt these feelings of anxiety or worry
  • 100% of girls who admit to these feelings also say they have experienced depression
  • 35% of all girls have experienced prolonged feelings of anxiety for two weeks or longer, compared to just 14% of boys who have felt this way

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