Teens and adults must talk more on abusive relationships and mental illness, survey finds

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — More than one-third of Jewish females in Chicago aged 12-20 said they were in an abusive relationship or situation, according to a survey by interns working for the Research Training Institute.

In addition, 80 percent of those surveyed said they knew other Jewish teens that are or were in a physically, sexually or verbally abusive relationship or situation, according to the survey by the 15 teenage interns.

A report with the survey calls on Jewish community leaders, Jewish communal professionals and parents to engage in serious dialogue about how the experiences of privilege and oppression shape the lives of young Jewish women.

The survey and report, titled “#Jewish and Proud: A Study of Young Jewish Women in Chicago,” were part of a 15-month internship of the inaugural cohort of the Research Training Institute.

The online survey of 187 self-identifying Jewish adolescent women in the Chicago area included respondents from across the Jewish denominational spectrum who attend private and public schools.

Some 63 percent of respondents reported having anxiety or stress; 28 percent experienced depression; and 19 percent reported disordered eating. A large majority also knew other Jewish teenage women who are affected by mental illness, specifically anxiety/stress (88 percent), depression (79 percent), substance abuse (47 percent) and disordered eating (60 percent).

Some 29 percent of respondents said they were frustrated with their school policies’ surrounding absences, sports and other extracurricular activities that fail to accommodate their Jewish identity and religious observance. Some 35 percent of respondents indicated that they are “strongly concerned” about anti-Semitism on college campuses. An additional 23 percent responded that they are “strongly concerned” and say it plays a role in what college they choose to attend.

Based on their findings, the interns made three public awareness videos to launch community conversations surrounding these issues.

The teens also issued recommendations on how to address the issues, including expanding communication between Jewish teens and Jewish adults; promote a public awareness campaign to combat the use of the term JAP, or Jewish American Princess; increase communication with school administrations; encourage leaders of youth programming to facilitate discussions on issues of sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, and allocate additional resources to ensure that Jewish students know about mental health resources in the community and are able to access them financially and geographically.

The Research Training Institute is conducted in Chicago by the Jewish United Fund in conjunction with DePaul University and the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community, with support from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Ellie Fund of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. RTI originally began as a New York-based program through the Jewish social justice and feminist group Ma’yan.

The interns presented their findings earlier this month at a DePaul  community forum, the JUF News reported.

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