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Adolescent Hopelessness and HIV

By Gary Bell

July 15, 2009

A new report published in Healthday News on Jun 29, 2009, has found that almost 15 percent of American adolescents believe that they will die before age 35, a belief that may be strongly linked to unsafe behavior. Greater than one in seven youths have a pessimistic view about their future mortality and are more likely to take risks. The findings, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, are based on a three-year study of attitudes and behaviors among 20,594 teens from the 7th through 12th grades. The teens were asked about their views on personal mortality as it related to behaviors such as attempting suicide, using illegal drugs, sustaining fight-related injuries that required medical care, engaging in unprotected sex, being arrested by the police and contracting HIV or AIDS.

Other important findings included:

  • Race and wealth were important variables. While 10 percent of white teens expressed this pessimism, 21 percent of Hispanic teens and 26 percent of African American youth harbored this fatalistic view.
  • Adolescents who predicted a short lifespan were more likely to engage in risky behavior, and teens who engaged in risky behavior (throughout the first year of the study) "were more likely to develop a pessimistic view of their future."

Clearly, more needs to be done to both assess these attitudes early on, especially for minority and low income children, and to make every effort to develop programs that help to instill a sense of optimism and hope. Without this new focus, we will continue to raise a generation of children who feel that "they have nothing to lose."

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Transition to Hope

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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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