WATERLOO — Teen 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 has been learning about mental health issues for at least two years.
Last year, they met with Ryan Nesbit of the suicide awareness organization Alive and Running. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 90% of people ages 10 to 24 who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness.
“As a council, we underwent suicide prevention training,” said Shane Edwards, an East junior.
Later, they connected 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 at the council’s mayor. “She is a big advocate for teen mental health.”
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She told students about House File 2294, a bill that had been introduced in the Legislature. It would require public schools that issue identification cards to include the Your Life Iowa crisis telephone and text numbers on either side.
“We decided to adopt it as our agenda for the year,” said Gallen. Youth council members, working on different committees, developed ideas for how the contact information could be displayed on cards.
At a meeting earlier this month, students talked about using a QR code to link to the phone, text and chat options. Their design would also place phrases around the code to further draw attention to its purpose. Those include “being bullied,” “mental health,” “thoughts of suicide” and “sexual abuse.”
The student group plans to travel to the Capitol in Des Moines on March 30 to advocate for the bill, their design ideas and educate lawmakers on the mental health issues faced by teenagers. They’re hosting an event in a meeting room and have meetings set up with groups of lawmakers.
“We’re going to have a tri-fold when we go to the Capitol,” said Marysofi Gutierrez, a Columbus senior. It will include information on mental health awareness and the Waterloo Youth City Council.
“I’m working on an invitation for the representatives,” said Emma Riordan, a West senior. Brown-Powers is delivering them to her legislative colleagues.
The bill didn’t receive the required approvals before a deadline Friday that keeps legislation alive. Carol Luce, one of the youth council’s advisers, said there is still an option to bring it back as part of another bill, like the education budget. She said students plan to advocate for such an amendment to keep the bill moving forward.
In the meantime, the students are collecting items to contribute to a Black Hawk Grundy Mental Health Center drive next month. They are looking for such things as stress balls, fidget toys, journals, pill calendars and coloring books that can be given to patients.
Students have also found ways to get the word out about teen mental health needs. Some are posting items on social media, including Tik-Tok. Others have developed public service announcements about mental health that are being played on NRG Media radio stations.
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