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In early May, the nation was rocked by a leaked Supreme Court draft that signaled the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, could end. The response to this leak was visceral and immediate.

The United States has weathered a seemingly never-ending barrage of difficult situations recently, all of which can take a toll on one's mental health. "We are experiencing the convergence of several major crises in this nation all at once — all of which are impacting individuals' sense of security, health and wellness and, as a result, their mental health," says Jennifer Thompson, director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

The leaked draft signaled the possible stripping away of rights from people who can bear children, and a threat to the rights of other marginalized groups. There is now a dark cloud hovering over groups who have been recently granted rights, such as the LGBTQIA community. The possibility that their rights could be stripped away with one single majority decision of the Supreme Court is a heavy burden for the community to bear.

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A Question of History and Traditions

The biggest red flag for the LGBTQIA community was the language Justice Samuel Alito used in his draft. Alito's justification for overturning Roe v. Wade was largely based on the practice of abortion not being rooted in the country's "history and traditions." He calls attention to the fact that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution, making its Constitutional protection granted in 1973, in his opinion, "egregious from the start."

Gay marriage, one of the biggest wins for LGBTQIA rights, is also not mentioned in the Constitution. The right to marry whomever you choose was granted nationwide only seven short years ago. The chances that gay marriage rights could be stripped away under the same reasoning as abortion rights are a real threat to the security and pursuit of happiness of gay citizens.

The rights of the LGBTQIA community are already heavily under attack in the United States, with a noted uptick in anti-gay legislation being introduced in many states.

"Florida, Texas, and other states are already banning gender-affirming care," says Thompson, "They're banning the word ‘gay,’ and helpers like social workers can be prosecuted for supporting our youth in these critical, life-saving moments."

The Human Impact of Legislation

When legislation is passed that seeks to control the bodily autonomy of another, or seeks to invalidate their personhood, the result is almost always one of stress and anxiety. Other groups rightfully wonder if they are next on the chopping block. Groups that are targeted repeatedly, like women, the LGBTQIA community, and black and brown people, suffer from a level of trauma fatigue. Peruse the social media accounts of these communities after legislation is passed that affects them directly, and a common theme will emerge: "We're tired."

"Daily, I speak with therapists who share with me that the recent happenings around our nation are impacting their clients," says Thompson. She describes how after the murder of George Floyd, clients reported more fears of safety and anxiety in public places. "We have seen that time and again after senseless murders of black and brown individuals."

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With the passing of legislation around the nation targeting her LGBTQIA clients, Thompson expresses that the community has expressed fears of safety, but also struggles with a public discussion about their personhood. “There's a pervasive feeling that laws are invalidating and, in some cases, degrading who they are as people,” Thompson says. With the leaked draft of Roe v. Wade, for example, women are experiencing anxiety over the decision and its immediate impacts, and are left with uncertainty about what the future looks like for them.

This uncertainty contributes significantly to mental health concerns for these oft-targeted groups. There is a human impact around decisions like a possible overturn of Roe v. Wade that can reverberate across diverse communities and generations.

Thompson feels it's important to stress to the LGBTQIA community that their feelings of anxiety, and fear for the future that surround the Roe leak, are entirely valid. "What we have to ask is, ‘what is next, if Roe is overturned?’" she questions, "What’s next if the rights of our LGBTQIA community are already being stripped? If we're already legislating what women can do with their own bodies, and now starting to see the intentional banning of birth control — what else is next?"

Thompson stresses that talking through the anxiety, depression, and other feelings that come on the heels of legislative upheaval such as this is vital. "You do not have to manage this alone. Talk to friends, talk to a therapist, and join a conversation with others. Talking through this and gaining tools to help you manage that anxiety is critical," she states.

The actions of the broader society are important as well, says Thompson.

"We all know someone who is LGBTQIA. We all know a woman who has terminated a pregnancy. Those people, our friends, and loved ones are suffering right now — and often silently," she explains. "The news, the harmful politics, the rhetoric we post on social media takes a toll and contributes to the state of their mental health."

Doing our part at large starts with creating safe spaces and being mindful of not sharing harmful or false information. In an age where all news travels around the world at the click of a button, and opinions fly fast and free, vetting the sources of information becomes even more important. Thompson suggests asking yourself if something you are about to post could potentially harm someone before posting it. Especially if that someone is someone you care about.

To Thompson, the fight to protect the lives of groups historically the target of harmful legislation cannot end on social media platforms. Engaging in political discourse, voting, and demanding more of legislators needs to occur for real change to happen.

"The best thing we can all do to improve the mental health of our friends and loved ones is to protect their rights."

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Thompson urges those experiencing anxiety or other issues in response to the Roe v. Wade leak or other targeted legislation to visit the National Association of Social Workers online and connect with a therapist in their area.