WATERLOO — Teenage mental health is an important topic for the Waterloo Youth City Council.
The group of nearly 30 students from Columbus Catholic High School, East High School, Expo Alternative Learning Center and West High School have been studying mental health issues for at least two years.
Last year, they met Ryan Nesbit of suicide awareness organization Alive and Running. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 90% of people aged 10 to 24 who die by suicide had an underlying mental illness.
“As a council, we have had suicide prevention training,” said Shane Edwards, a junior from the East.
They later got in touch with a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from Waterloo who is passionate about the issue.
“We started meeting with Timi Brown-Powers,” said Adrianna Gallen, a Columbus senior who serves on the council mayor. “She’s a big advocate for teen mental health.”
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She told the students about House File 2294, a bill that had been introduced in the Legislative Assembly. Public schools that issue IDs should include Your Life Iowa crisis phone and text numbers on each side.
“We decided to adopt it as our program of the year,” Gallen said. Youth council members, working on different committees, developed ideas for how contact information could be displayed on maps.
At a meeting earlier this month, students talked about using a QR code to access phone, text and chat options. Their design would also place phrases around the code to draw more attention to its purpose. These include ‘being bullied’, ‘mental health’, ‘suicidal thoughts’ and ‘sexual abuse’.
The student group plans to travel to the Des Moines Capitol on March 30 to advocate for the bill, their design ideas, and educate lawmakers about mental health issues facing teens. They organize a meeting room event and organize meetings with groups of legislators.
“We’re going to have a hat-trick when we go to the Capitol,” said Columbus senior Marysofi Gutierrez. It will include information about mental health awareness and the Waterloo Youth City Council.
“I’m working on an invite for reps,” said Emma Riordan, a senior out west. Brown-Powers delivers them to his parliamentary colleagues.
The bill did not receive the required approvals by a Friday deadline that keeps the legislation alive. Carol Luce, one of the youth council advisers, said it was always possible to bring it back as part of another bill, such as the education budget. She said the students plan to advocate for such an amendment to move the bill forward.
In the meantime, the students are collecting items to contribute to a Black Hawk Grundy Mental Health Center campaign next month. They are looking for things like stress balls, toys, journals, pill calendars and coloring books that can be given to patients.
The students also found ways to raise awareness of the mental health needs of adolescents. Some post on social media, including Tik-Tok. Others have developed mental health public service announcements that air on NRG Media radio stations.
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