Rep. Zach Nunn Introduces Bill To Combat Youth Suicide

Rep. Zach Nunn speak at YSS in Des Moines after announcing a new bill to combat youth suicide. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

September 12, 2023
Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) introduced what he hopes will become a bipartisan piece of legislation to combat youth suicide on Tuesday.

Nunn, who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, announced the “Prevent Youth Suicide Act” during a press conference at YSS’s youth opportunity center in downtown Des Moines after a tour of the facility. YSS is one of Iowa’s largest youth-centered nonprofits.

“September marks Suicide Prevention Month and, as we know across the country, this is a challenge that impacts people of all ages at all points in their life, but none more so than youth who are suffering,” Nunn said.

Nunn’s bill would establish biennial training on suicide prevention and awareness for teachers and staff at educational institutions. He noted this would include public, private, charter, and homeschool facilities.

The state of Iowa passed similar legislation in 2018 when Nunn was in the Iowa House, and he called that program a model of success.

During the press conference, Kalli Kennel, a YSS specialized prevention specialist coordinator, said there are a few signs people should look for to help with youth suicide prevention.

“Oftentimes, students will be withdrawn. If someone was really involved in sports or the school play and they decide to drop out, out of nowhere, that’s a big sign,” she said. “Oftentimes, hygiene comes and goes, sleeping patterns, eating patterns will change.”

Citing a 2021 study by the Centers for Disease and Control, Nunn said 16,961 high school students across the country felt “sad or hopeless” and 15,573 of those students had attempted suicide. In Iowa, 1,300 felt hopeless and 1,250 attempted suicide.

The data came from the 2021 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, which also found that “nearly 70% of LGBQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” “more than 20% of LGBQ+ students attempted suicide,” and nearly a quarter of LGBTQ students were bullied at school and nearly 30% were bullied online.

When asked how his legislation would help stem anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and bullying as contributing factors to youth suicide, Nunn said the bill takes a “more holistic approach.”

“What are some of the indicators behind it, how do we assist in that. You guys have been practitioners in the classroom” Nunn said, gesturing toward YSS staffers next to him.

“First and foremost is do we have the resources to do that so that burden doesn’t just fall on them or the parent,” he continued. “Being alert that early covers a wide gamut and you can see right here with YSS they’ve taken an all of the above approach.”

Nunn was optimistic that this bill would have support across the political spectrum.

“Any loss of life to suicide is one too many. We all know [and] we’ve all been touched by this in very personal ways,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to help be part of the solution collectively across our communities here in Iowa and we must continue to prevent the unnecessary loss of life.

“So I am so proud to see both Republicans and Democrats join hands on this very important issue and I am thrilled that Iowa gets to be the voice in the leadership of where we want to go,” he concluded.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.


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