Recent bills passed in American states such as Alabama, Utah, and Missouri have people around the world concerned about women’s rights. How do these attitudes and the resulting political bills affect our mental health? How does taking away a woman’s right to choose affect her self-worth, autonomy, free will, self-respect, and life in general?
Telling women that they can’t have abortions tells them that they do not have the fundamental human right to control their own bodies. Women are significantly underrepresented in politics, so in many cases men continue to make choices for and pass laws about women’s bodies. We must be cognizant of the message this sends to everyone, including our children: that only 50% of the population are allowed to make decisions about their physical bodies. And to be in that 50%, you have to be male. ]
Though these laws are not yet in place, the messaging surrounding them still has an impact on mental health and overall mental wellness. These laws go against so much of we have been told in life – that the only thing we actually have control over is ourselves. That we can’t control others, but only how we perceive and react to their actions. We can control what we eat, how we talk to our friends, loved ones, and colleagues, and what we do for fun. We make time for and prioritize what is most important to us. So then when women are suddenly told that they no longer have this control – that they no longer have the right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies – their sense of autonomy and free will are weakened.
This shift contributes to a sense of helplessness and loss of hope, as women are told that their ownership of their body is less important than someone else’s personal belief and political power. This undermines their self-respect and value as a human being and can negatively impact vital components of their overall mental well-being. It can seep into all areas of life, both professional and personal, by increasing subjective distress, decreasing motivation and productivity, and harming relationships.
What Can We Do?
If you are finding that this topic is making you angry, disempowered or triggered, here are three ways you can push back:
- Take a Break – The media loves to ruminate on “today’s top story,” even when they have nothing new to share. To prevent ourselves from being triggered over and over again, we need to learn when to turn off the constant information stream. When a particularly troubling story is constantly repeating across all platforms and affecting you emotionally, it is important to take the initiative to turn it off whenever possible. If a friend, colleague, or loved one brings it up in conversation, it is perfectly acceptable to be honest and tell them that you would prefer not to discuss it at the moment as it really upsets you. We all need to give each other space to process the world around us in our own ways, and this looks different for everyone.
- Take Action – If you start to feel powerless or cynical, it can also be helpful to volunteer for an organization that’s important to you. In an era where we’re constantly pummelled with negativity, contributing to causes that are meaningful to you can go a long way in decreasing any hopelessness that may be creeping up. You can also help make a meaningful difference in addressing the issue at hand.
- Practice Gratitude – When it’s all getting to be too much, try to remember to be grateful for everything we do have, as that’s essential for staying mentally well. For example, even in the midst of these anti-abortion bills, women now feel the safest they ever have to be proactive and speak their minds. The bad in the world will never outweigh the good, and in the wise words of Fred Rogers, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
In conclusion, sociopolitical messages such as these anti-abortion bills can negatively affect our self-worth, self-esteem, and sense of autonomy, leading to increased mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other related issues. It is more important than ever to support each others’ mental health and wellness in the face of such controversial issues that impact so many. We now have access to information as soon as it happens, 24/7. We need to focus on the good, while doing what we can to address the bad. Whether that means volunteering, donating, signing petitions, destigmatizing mental health issues by frequently talking about them, or supporting our loved ones through difficult times, we can all do something. We all need to take care of ourselves by turning off the news when it ruminates, taking action when we begin to feel helpless, and remembering to look for the helpers.