Adoption and Mental Health

Children adopted at any age face unique struggles. Depending on when they were adopted and how far away from their native home they travel, these children are up against a variety of challenges unique to their new role as an adoptee. The relationship between adopted child and new parents has a major impact on how these struggles are handled and how successfully they are navigated.

In her article for the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, GinaMarie Guarino explains that “…adopted children are almost twice as likely as children brought up with their biological parents to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues”. From another perspective, between 12 and 14 percent of adopted children in America “…are diagnosed with a mental health disorder each year”.

Types of Disorders

While children adopted as babies or while they are still very young tend to grow up like their non-adopted peers, those adopted later are more likely to develop behavioral or mental health issues. According to “Adoption and Mental Illness”, posted in Psychiatric Times, “The odds of having ADHD or [oppositional defiant disorder] were about twice as high in all adopted adolescents. For example, Keyes said, 7 to 8 out of 100 nonadopted adolescents had ADHD compared with 14 to 15 out of 100 of the adoptees”.

Adopted children are also at higher risk for depression and separation anxiety disorders—especially children who were adopted internationally. These children also have “…much higher rates of fetal alcohol syndrome, autism and brain damage…”, according to an article on CNN health. In their Psychiatric Times article, Arline Kaplan made it clear that there is a correlation between international adoptions and age. Most children who come from overseas are adopted at a younger age than those adopted domestically, and therefore adjust to their new lives much as they are typically still developing.

Combating Mental Health Issues Connected with Adoption

According to the article “Nurturing a Child with Mental or Emotional Health Problems” at Bethany Christian Services, there are many factors in an adopted child’s life that can affect their mental health. Some factors relate to their family life, such as “The quality of the child’s relationships with the adoptive parents and siblings; The parents’ comfort level and openness to acknowledging and discussing relinquishment and adoption within their family…” as well as “The quality of contact the child has with her birth family” and “The parents’ sensitivity to the needs of their child and their willingness to seek professional help if needed”.

New adoptive parents can help combat some of these issues. Doing their research on mental health issues that affect adoptees at a higher rate helps the new parents get informed and recognize issues at an earlier stage. Preparing other family members for their new addition and making sure everyone knows what to expect and/or how to cope can also make the transition easier.

Other factors relate to the child welfare and mental health systems. These factors include the number and quality of transitions in a child’s life, the information collected and passed on regarding the child’s specific needs, and “The level of understanding about trauma, relinquishment, and adoption that mental health professionals have and use when diagnosing the challenges faced by adopted children and adoptive families”.

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