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MATTOON -- Young people in the area now think depression and suicide are more of a concern than underage drinking and other health issues.

For the first time in its 19-year history, the I Sing the Body Electric youth survey didn't show that alcohol use was the survey respondents' main concern.

Instead, depression and suicide easily topped underage drinking as the biggest concern for eighth-grade students surveyed and it also was the top response for the high school sophomores and seniors who took part.

Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center sponsors the I Sing the Body Electric program. It started the survey in 1998 and conducts it every two years to ask students about their thoughts on health-related issues.

"While we can't determine why it rose to the top, we have seen it coming," Laura Bollan, director of the hospital's Healthy Communities program, said about the change in the survey's main concern.

In addition to conducting the survey, the program also works with area students to create art projects based on and to symbolize the survey's results. They're later displayed at area schools to present prevention messages.

Bollan said there's been a change in recent years to more of the art projects addressing topics such as depression, self image and anxiety.

"When we tour these projects, we hear feedback from other students that the messages are really speaking to them," Bollan said.

The surveys took place last spring and presented a variety of questions on health and related topics to students in a seven-county area covering 34 different schools.

The results were based on responses from 3,159 students, or 64 percent of the student population in schools in Coles, Clark, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Moultrie and Shelby counties.

For the eighth-graders surveyed, 38 percent named depression or suicide as their top health concern for people their age. Twenty-two percent picked body image and 18 percent named bullying as the top concern.

Drug use was next for the eighth-graders at 13 percent, while alcohol use was at 5 percent and tobacco use at 4 percent.

The results for the high school students were closer, with 29 percent of sophomores and 26 percent of seniors listing depression and suicide as the top concern.

For both groups, drug use was next at 18 percent for sophomores and 20 percent for seniors, followed by body image at 17 percent for both.

Alcohol use was the top concern of 12 percent of sophomores and 15 percent of seniors. The survey also asked the high school students about bullying, tobacco use and issues related to sexual activity, all of which received 10 percent or less.

For the first time, the survey included a question about heroin use, which SBLHC officials indicated was mostly because of the national issue about the drug. The survey showed that 1 percent of high school seniors said they'd used heroin in the last year.

More information about the I Sing the Body Electric program is available online at www.bodyelectric.sarahbush.org. The complete survey results can be found at the "Illinois Youth Service" option under the main page's "About Us" link.

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Reporter

Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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