, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 9-25

Mental Health, Social Environment and Sexual Risk Behaviors of Adolescent Service Users: A Gender Comparison

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Abstract

We examined individual mental health problems (depression, conduct disorder, and substance abuse) and social environment (family, peer, and neighborhood) factors associated with the sexual risk behaviors of male and female adolescents. Interviews with 778 adolescents, aged 14 to 18, showed that both mental health problems and social environment were related to adolescents' involvement in sexual risk behaviors. Conduct disorder symptoms, substance abuse or dependence symptoms, and the interaction between peer misbehavior and neighborhood problems were significantly associated with risky sexual behaviors. Peer misbehavior was a particularly strong factor related to sexual risk behaviors for youths who lived in neighborhoods with multiple problems. The only gender differences were found in age, with older males more likely to report engaging in high risk sexual behaviors. This study suggests the utility of multidimensional intervention strategies to deal with various adolescent problem behaviors, including risky sexual behaviors, within the context of their social environment.