Teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) are five times more likely to attempt suicide, up to four times more likely to abuse drugs and have a 28 percent greater high school drop-out rate than their heterosexual peers.
But about 30 people who attended a suicide prevention community conversation at Wednesday learned there are things parents and community members can do to help kids beat those odds. First on the list: talking about it.
Emcee Anna Cassar said the increased risk of suicide and other problems are the result of social isolation, chronic peer abuse, rejection from parents and the message that being LGBTQ is "bad" or "wrong".
"We are not here to engage in any political ... or moral debate," she said. "It is our hope that tonight's presentation will bring about more conversations."
The event was the first topic-specific discussion hosted by the Farmington Area Suicide Prevention Task Force, formed last year after city officials became alarmed at the number of suicide-related calls in their monthly reports from The group also hosted a community-wide meeting last fall.
Farmington High has active GSA
On Wednesday, Lesley Renee Merrill, a junior at , and English teacher Jennifer Deledda, talked about their school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which has really gotten off the ground this year. Merrill said the school participated April 20 in "Day of Silence," a national effort to raise awareness about the harassment and bullying experienced by the LGBTQ community.
Deledda said students "decided to plaster posters all over the school" at the end of the day, so their message was "loud and clear" on Monday morning. "We ran into some resistance," she said. "It also was a really good thing... I think it started a really important dialogue at our school."
Other panelists included Mike Neubecker of Downriver Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), who talked about his own struggle when his son came out more than 13 years ago; director of instructional equity Naomi Khalil, who outlined how the district is working to make schools safer for students who are LGBTQ; Fran Brown, Director of Clinical Training at , who shared warning signs that someone may be considering suicide; and John Jenkins, director of programs at , a Ferndale-based resource center for the LGBTQ community.
Jenkins said it's important to reach students even earlier than high school, adding middle school can be a particularly difficult time for kids who are questioning their sexuality.
"Being on the front lines, we see the result for youth who don't get services," he said. "It's adults who have major mental health issues ... It's important that we tackle this issue while they're still youth."
Merrill said while she feels very accepted at Farmington High, "middle school sucks. That's when I really came out. If we can get into the middle schools, that could really have an effect."
For more information about the Task Force, which plans a conversation on social media this fall, follow the organization on Facebook.
To get help with depression or suicidal thoughts, call Common Ground, 800-231-1127, Samaritan Counseling, 248-474-4701, or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 800-273-TALK.