updated 10/7/2011 1:51:32 PM ET 2011-10-07T17:51:32

Teens and young adults who have sent or received X-rated text messages are more likely to seek mental health treatment and consider suicide, according to a new survey conducted by the Associated Press and MTV.

The 2011 AP-MTV Digital Abuse Study polled 1,335 people between the ages of 14 and 24, and found that 19 percent of people who have sexted have also received treatment from a mental health professional, compared with 6 percent who have not. Those who have sent X-rated messages are four times more likely to have considered suicide, the survey showed.

Other disturbing correlations between sexting and harmful behaviors emerged from the study, including the statistic that students who have engaged in sexting were more likely to consider dropping out of school.

[Why Teens and Adults Send X-Rated Texts]

Sexting is a 'serious problem' but it's still happening.

"Because of technology, this generation of young adults is navigating their sexuality and first sexual experiences in an environment unlike any before," the survey said.

Despite 71 percent of respondents admitting that sexting is a "serious problem," 1 in 3 indicated they had sent "some form" of a sexual message, the survey said. Nearly half (46 percent) of people who have sexted said they had sex in the past week.

Broken down by the type of message, 15 percent of respondents said they've sent naked photos or videos of themselves, 33 percent have received texts or online messages with "sexual words" and 21 percent have received naked pictures or videos of others. About half the people who admitted sending a nude picture said they felt pressured to do so.

Digital abuse linked to smoking and drugs

Sexting isn't the only digital behavior that has negative consequences on teens and young adults.

The focus of the Associated Press-MTV poll was digital abuse, which can come from harassing emails, texts, IMs or social network posts, forwarded emails that were meant to remain private or discriminatory language. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they have experienced some form of digital abuse.

Among those victims, the survey showed that that 21 percent smoked in the past week, compared with 8 percent who did not, and "behaviors such as smoking, drinking, illegal drugs or sexual activity were more common among those who have suffered from digital abuse."

What can be done?

While there's no surefire way to stop digital abuse, teen and young adult victims do have some recourse.

Eighty percent said changing their online passwords helped decrease digital abuse, and 59 percent said deleting their social network profile "ameliorated the situation." But if you're not ready to take the drastic step of disappearing from Facebook or Twitter, simply asking for help from a friend or parent can help limit digital abuse and, in turn, help prevent the negative behaviors that come with it.

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