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7 September 2006
Depression At Root Of Risky Sex
by George Atkinson

Researchers from the Bradley Children's Research Center and Brown Medical School say that African-American teens with symptoms of depression are four times more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Appearing in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study found that depressive symptoms like feeling lonely, feeling sad, feelings of worthlessness etc. in adolescents can lead them to do without condoms and undertake other risky sexual acts. "This means that symptoms of depression in African American patients [could be] an indicator of future sexual risk, and HIV intervention programs should be designed as to address depression, especially in this population," says study author, Larry K. Brown, MD.

The study participants were African American adolescents and young adults aged between 15 and 21 years of age from Atlanta and Providence.

They were asked about the number of times they'd had unsafe sex in the past ninety days, and about their particular attitudes concerning condom use. They were also asked to answer questions on their psychological state.

Worryingly, the odds that adolescents who reported depressive symptoms would report inconsistent condom use was approximately four times greater than that of their peers who did not report depressive symptoms. The researchers concluded from this result that psychosocial context is relevant to all adolescents' sexual risk and should be incorporated into adolescent HIV risk assessments and prevention interventions.

Additionally, the study found that African American high school students are more likely (67 percent) than their Hispanic (51 percent) or Caucasian (42 percent) counterparts to have had sexual intercourse and more likely to have had four or more lifetime sex partners (29 percent vs. 16 percent vs. 11 percent, respectively). "We also found that older adolescents and females were less likely to use condoms consistently," said Brown.

While African Americans represent around 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 50 percent of HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed. The researchers believe this trend can be reversed by assessing depressive symptoms and intervening early, to help prevent more severe emotional disorders from developing and consequently preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs among adolescents. "Prevention interventions that address depressed mood could have a significant impact on later HIV/STI sexual risk behaviors," said Brown in conclusion.

Based on material from Bradley Hospital

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