New data collected in the fall of 2021 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals that teen girls and teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning and/or queer (LGBTQ+) are experiencing high levels of mental stress, violence, and substance use.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: CDC
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What were the key statistics from the survey?

According to the data, teen girls are confronting the highest levels of sexual violence, sadness, and hopelessness they have ever reported to the YRBS.

About 30% of girls said they considered suicide, according to the data, double the rate among boys and it’s up almost 60% from a decade ago.

Twenty percent of the girls surveyed for the report said they experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence in the past year, a 20% increase since 2017.

The data said more than 1 in 10 teen girls reported having been forced to have sex. That’s up 27% since 2019, and the first increase since the CDC began monitoring this measure.

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The picture is even more troubling for those teens in the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the data, half of the LGBTQ+ community students said they seriously considered suicide. Concerns over safety resulted in more than 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ teens staying home from school in 2021. Nearly 1 in 4 experienced sexual violence and nearly 1 in 4 were bullied at school.

Alcohol use is also higher among girls than boys, according to the report.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: CDC
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Why is this happening?

"A lot of it has to do with isolation, online learning, and an increased reliance on social media during the pandemic," said Dr. Frieda Birnbaum, a Saddle River research psychologist and psychoanalyst.

But this has continued even after the pandemic and the issues have only gotten worse  that many are not even returning to school, she said.

When teens feel isolated, they feel rejected. They come loners, become anxious and depressed so all these mental illnesses occur, Birnbaum said.

“Developmentally, you don’t socialize and that’s really a strain on you because these are the formative years. Your frontal cortex helps you to learn how to relate and grow into adulthood,” Birnbaum said.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: CDC
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Because of this, there has been more bullying, more assaults, and more feelings of having to defend themselves, Birnbaum added.

This combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide, depression, substance use disorder, poor academic performance, and other severe consequences.

What can be done to stop the increase in violence, bullying, and assaults?

According to Birnbaum, bullying typically happens inside schools and with more than 95% of children and adolescents spending much of their days in school, it is important that schools provide a safe haven to foster the knowledge, skills, and support needed to help reduce and prevent the impacts and violence and trauma that have wreaked havoc on young people.

With the right programs and services in place, schools can help students strive. She said one thing that could help is if school counselors and therapists could hold mandatory classes on these issues.

But in low-income areas, there is a shortage of school staff and mental health professionals, Birnbaum said, who adds that the federal pandemic money is needed to put more of these specialists in the schools.

“The children should be taught ways to manage stress in schools and it’s not happening enough,” Birnbaum said.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: CDC
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There are ways to help

Birnbaum said that if you see someone who is alone, who seems isolated, who seems depressed, and who seems sad, don’t ignore it.

Go over to that person, listen to that person, talk to that person, and make friends with that person. Sometimes, that simple task can save someone’s life, said Birnbaum.

Parents must also be part of the solution.

“What is happening to the support system at home? Are the parents able to have mental health experiences on their own before they even take care of their children? Are they actually confronting and involved in their children’s studies and well-being and who are their friends?,” Birnbaum said.

Parents need to connect to their children’s activities and well-being at home because that’s where it really starts, she said.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: CDC
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What is the takeaway?

Sexual violence, suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, and many other mental health problems that have affected teens can be avoided, Birnbaum said.

“All these dilemmas are something that really needs to be made aware of in the school system, and they have to have programs, especially for that. They have to have classes, and they have to have groups that are mandatory that these students have to go to,” Birnbaum said.

These mandatory classes are not just for teen girls and LGBTQ+ students.

Birnbaum said they should be for the whole school so that they can gather together and know what they have to do for each other.

New Jersey high school graduation rates

The lists below show 4-year graduation rates for New Jersey public schools for the 2020-21 school year. The statewide graduation rate fell slightly, from 91% in 2019-20 to 90.6%.

The lists, which are sorted by county and include a separate list for charter schools, also include a second graduation rate, which excludes students whose special education IEPs allow them to qualify for diplomas despite not meeting typical coursework and attendance requirements.

Columns with an asterisk or 'N' indicate there was no data or it was suppressed to protect student privacy.

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