IMHCA’s response to anti-LGBT Legislation
There has been an unprecedented attack on LGBTQ+ rights during the 2023 Iowa legislative session. The Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association recognizes the importance of protecting the mental health and wellness of all Iowans, including LGBTQIA+ individuals, and opposes these measures. The use of law to allow, encourage, or even mandate the discrimination of any community of people is unconscionable and can contribute to significant harm to the mental health of all communities, and especially those who are already marginalized. We oppose these harmful laws in line with three fundamental arguments.
Importance of Autonomy
The profession of mental health counseling requires a commitment to the wellbeing of others, regardless of their identity. As mental health counselors we are “encouraged to advocate at the individual, institutional, professional, and societal level to foster sociopolitical change that advances client and community welfare” (AMHCA code of Ethics, F.2.) Our ethical code additionally states that our “primary ethical principle … is to ensure client autonomy and self-determination” (AMHCA code of Ethics, A.1.a.). Autonomy is fundamental to maintaining mental health at all developmental levels, hence its significance to mental health counselors. The recent legislative actions in Iowa will prevent LGBTQ+ Iowans the opportunity to have autonomy over their lives, and stand in direct opposition to the ethical guideposts of mental health counselors; these laws, ultimately, will yield dire consequences for the overall mental health of the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
Harm to Iowa Youth
LGBTQ+ students are at increased risk of mental health challenges and suicide attempts directly related to the impacts of bias, discrimination, and rejection. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth in Iowa seriously considered suicide in the year 2019, with more than half reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression: 76% and 61%, respectively (The Trevor Project, 2022). Safe, affirming, supportive schools are life savers for these young people. Research from the Trevor Project has further shown than affirming accommodations and use of a students’ appropriate pronouns and name lead to a 50 percent reduction of risk of suicide in transgender and nonbinary youth.
Prior to these legislative activities, fewer than half of LGBTQ+ Iowa youths were able to identify school or home as an LGBTQ-affirming space (46% and 40%, respectively). By limiting affirmative options available to schools, the current legislative actions this session all but guarantee unprecedented spikes in rates of suicidal thoughts and behavior and other negative mental health symptoms. Further, the rhetoric accompanying the legislative actions place LGBTQ+ youth at the center of hostile actions and words from adults and those meant to be leaders in our communities.
Further legislation moves outside of the classroom and bans gender-affirming care for trans youth in Iowa. Gender affirming care saves lives and IMHCA strongly opposes the use of legislative power to ban what every major medical organization in the country agrees is safe and necessary medical care. The use of gender-affirming care is linked with significant reduction in mental health symptoms including depression and suicidal thoughts and actions and we are very concerned about the impact this legislation will have on individuals and on the mental health system in Iowa.
Mental Health Crisis
There is currently a critical shortage of mental health providers in Iowa. The legislative actions of this session disregard the prevalence of queer identities as a natural component of human diversity. As such, this legislation will perpetuate harm to each new generation of Iowans: legislated generational trauma. Given that these actions are in opposition to all extant research on mental health, gender affirming care, and suicidality, the state must be prepared for a mental health crisis. This preventable crisis will over-burden a system that is already struggling to meet the needs of Iowans.
IMHCA is opposed to any legislation that aims to harm or marginalize any community of people. We stand with our LGBTQIA+ community members and in working towards building a safe, affirming, accepting world for all.
The Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA) Board, 2023
IMHCA is aware that recent legislative actions may contribute to deterioration of mental health of our LGBTQ+ Iowans. As such, we are sharing the below resource list for Iowans who feel that they need additional support at this time.
One Iowa advances, empowers, and improves the lives of LGBTQ Iowans statewide. One Iowa also hosts a list of LGBTQ+ inclusive healthcare providers including mental health providers.
The Trevor Project’s missions is to end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning young people
The clinic is staffed by couple and family therapy and counseling psychology doctoral students. Each student completes training on providing services to LGBTQ individuals, including conducting assessments, writing letters of support, and providing ongoing individual, couples, and family therapy. Each student is supervised by a licensed marriage and family therapist, and all letters of support are approved by the clinical director.
PFLAG’s mission is to create a caring, just, and affirming world for LGBTQIA+ people and those who love them.
988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline), and is now active across the United States.
NAMI Iowa serves as a catalyst around advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all Iowans affected by mental illness can lead better lives