Mental health is one of most stigmatized health issues that people face across the world. Let’s be a part of ending the stigma today. We are going to highlight the importance of mental health and seeking support, especially in the adoption community. The impact of adoption on adoptees and on birth parents are all different and each person has faced a unique experience and coped in their own way.
12 to 14 percent of adopted children in the United States between ages 8 and 18 are diagnosed with a mental health disorder each year. While majority of adopted youth are psychologically healthy, they may be at elevated risk for some externalizing disorders, especially among those domestically placed. Unfortunately, suicide rates are much higher for adoptees; adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees.
Research has shown that adopted children with a history of prenatal substance exposure or pre-placement deprivation and those placed relatively late in their adoptive homes are at heightened risk of social, intellectual, and emotional problems. Sometimes an adoptee’s background is unknown, and these unknown histories can lead to more developed mental health challenges as children get older, from anxiety and depression to attachment issues. National Institute of Health posted a study in 2015 noting that adopted children had about the same instances of mental health challenges and are twice as likely to have contact with a mental health professional.
Luckily, there has been some attention to this in recent years, and some adoption specific training has emerged for mental health professionals who choose to make adoption an area of their practice.
Therapy and Support for Adoptees
Finding therapy or support groups can help adoptees focus on their mental health. Therapists or mental health professionals that specialize in working with the adoption triad can provide a safe space for members to explore their current feelings at various of stages of life and how it impacts all aspects of their lives and those around them. If available, finding an adoption competent therapist can be beneficial for adoptees. There are also support groups, virtually, on online forums, and in-person that can also be beneficial for adoptees to share their experiences and hear other experiences as well. Support groups may be made up of children, teens, or adults and focus primarily on adoptees and adoptee experiences. These support groups can help people feel less alone and process past trauma or experiences.
Additionally, therapies, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), have been shown to help adoptees, both children and adults, process distressing issues or traumatic experiences. Trauma-focused therapy helps process emotions after a traumatic experience and may help treat anxiety or depression brought on by the trauma.
Birth Mothers and Fathers
Birth mothers and fathers can also face mental health concerns from placing their child for adoption. Although there are some positive feelings that reside around the adoption experience as a birth parent, such as relief, gratitude, and acceptance another very common emotion is grief. There is loss: they gave the opportunity to parent their child to someone else. Grief does not require death to exist, and this is certainly a circumstance that demonstrates it.
Just as with any profound life event, the feelings that surround it can vary in how strongly they are felt and when. There is no one right thing to feel after placing a child for adoption and most birth parents agree they experience “double-dipped emotions” which are when they can feel happy their child is being raised by a great family but simultaneously sad because they aren’t raising their child themselves. Because each birth parent is an individual, what he or she experiences and feels as a result of choosing adoption is personal and unique to them. What most birth parents do realize is that it’s about learning hope to cope with the loss and moving through the grief that helps them move forward after placing their child for adoption.
Birth parents should seek out support, whether from friends, family, support groups of other birth parents, or understanding counselors to have a place where they feel safe to communicate their feelings. Being able to openly share feelings can be helpful in moving through the stages of grief. These can be helpful to birth parents who may feel that they are alone in their loss.
Counseling and Support Groups for Birth Parents
Birth parents may find that they need more support than family and friends can offer in order to move forward in the grieving process. Often times, those who have not gone through it, see the grief as regret and might not be able to help a birth parent work through their feelings. In such cases, professional counseling may help the birth parents make progress in dealing with the grief or may reassure birth parents that such feelings are normal. Birth parents should look for counselors who have significant experience with adoption and with bereavement. Referral for counselors may come from friends, birth parent support groups, or from the adoption agency or attorney who helped with the adoption. While birth parents will never forget their child, it is important that the birth parent receives support and resources to help with the transition to the new circumstances and come to terms with grief, pain, and loss.
Here at Adoptions From The Heart, we believe it’s vital to offer support groups for birth parents. We asked several of our birth mothers to share with us their perspective of attending a support group.
“The monthly support group has helped my mental health TREMENDOUSLY. It gives me a place to come and destress, or even just a safe place to let all my worries out and cry. Everyone is so loving and up-lifting. Our support group gives me something to look forward to, and that’s always helpful when dealing with mental stress” – SeAyra
“The monthly support groups have literally been my light in the dark when I felt completely alone. They don’t just help with the emotional needs of being a birth mom, they are my safe place to talk about any and everything that is going on in my life and not just the bad things. Those women are there to celebrate my triumphs and successes, just as much, if not more so then to pick me up when I fall, They keep me grounded and hey also remind me that no matter how lonely it gets out there, I have them so I’m never really alone”- Allison.
“If it wasn’t for our monthly support group, I would be lost! My mental health is fragile, and they always handle with care! I don’t have many safe spaces and our monthly groups have given me that”- Kristen
“Having a safe space to talk and be honest about all the joys and sadness that come with this journey, has helped me heal so much. The support from all the wonderful women I’ve met, keeps me going. I’m proud of each and every one of them,”- Mary
“The support groups help me find my voice and rejoice with other birthmothers. The groups also inspire me to release my worries. I love how we uplift each other during our sessions,”- Tiffany
Whether it is counseling, support groups, friends, or family, seeking support can be very helpful for adoptees and birth parents that face mental health issues. Mental health awareness starts with knowing you are not alone, talking about it and seeking out the proper support and resources.