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How Do We Celebrate Women’s History When Progress is Being Erased?

This Women’s History Month does not feel like a reason to celebrate for those of us who are seeing our rights slipping away. The looming election, war on reproductive rights, and sense of uncertainty for the future overshadow the success, and barriers we have overcome and typically honor this month. Morale can feel low when it seems like day after day, there’s a new assault on women’s rights and personal bodily autonomy. Just recently the Supreme Court heard a case with yet another attempt to block access to safe and effective abortion medication. The onslaught of attacks against reproductive health and consequential decline in mental health nationwide has exacerbated an already dire situation.

The anxiety many women have felt since the overturn of Roe v. Wade goes beyond restrictive abortion access; it affects our overall well-being and mental health. It is no surprise that according to a recent report by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), “Losing More Ground: Revisiting Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations,” Millennial young women 25-34 are seeing an increase in suicide rates and maternal mortality.

We find ourselves in a pivotal moment where investing in mental health services is imperative, given the nationwide mental health crisis, particularly among women. However, the determinants of mental health vary across different communities and demographics. Mental health extends beyond our conventional notions of wellness. For women, our mental health is tied to our autonomy to make choices about our own lives, reproductive health, education, finances, family, and career pathways. While our mental health, just like anyone else’s, is tied to the pursuit of freedom and happiness, without ever ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, women in the U.S. continue to live an uphill battle in this pursuit. 

So what can young women do today?

At Young Invincibles we take pride in our advocacy efforts to promote the economic well-being of young adults, especially from low-income communities and communities of color. Through our advocacy to expand access to higher education, health care, and workforce opportunities, we understand that different communities within the young adult community are disproportionately affected by policies directly dictating their ability to triumph at education, health, and their careers. 

As part of our federal agenda we support the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify Roe v. Wade. We remain committed to advocating and defending access to free contraception and affordable health screenings and services for women, transgender individuals, and non-binary people under the Affordable Care Act. 

While it is easy to get caught up in the overwhelming, all-consuming negativity that comes with the state of women’s wellness right now, it is imperative to look beyond the grimness and acknowledge some of the success we have to celebrate; it’s not all bad news for young adult women. More young women are graduating college, the earnings gap between men and women has decreased by seven percent, and young women’s incarceration rate has decreased by 20 percent when compared to Gen X. 

More importantly, we have a generation of young women who are eager to reclaim their time and their rights. We’ve seen this in recent mid-term elections and in state-wide referendums regarding access to abortion, contraceptive care, and wanting their voices to be heard.

Our main message to all the young women activated by the political climate we are in, is to also take care of your mental health along the way. This year YI introduced our Mental Health is Preventive Health policy agenda, to champion proposals that expand the accessibility and affordability of mental health on college campuses, and through both Medicaid and private forms of health insurance. This includes expanding the availability of culturally competent and diverse mental health professionals. 

While a majority of therapists, psychologists, and social workers are women, about 70 percent of this workforce is white, meaning there’s little representation of Latinas, Black, Asian and  Pacific Islander women. At a time when young women are struggling with not just internal stressors but also the reality of the harsh economic mobility ladder and the policies working against us, it’s imperative to ensure we’re advocating for representation even in the space where we seek mental well-being and care. Establishing a scholarship and expanding the loan repayment program under the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) for mental health providers, including undergraduate students, committed to pursuing careers in behavioral health, such as becoming licensed family counselors, is an essential first step to bolstering the field with culturally competent providers. 

Join our Mental Health is Preventive Health Policy campaign here.

Martha Sanchez serves as the Health Policy and Advocacy Director at Young Invincibles. Martha is a proud first generation immigrant from El Salvador, raised in Washington D.C. and Maryland. She participated in YI’s first class of YI Scholars where she focused on the intersection of immigration and health care access, and delved into the disparities and inequities present in the U.S. health care system.