Millions of Americans struggle with a mental health condition. Mental illness affects us all, directly or indirectly, whether through family, friends, or co-workers. Though it is widespread, mental illness is still frequently misunderstood and stigmatized. Research shows that adoptees are more likely than non-adoptees to attempt suicide.
Although it’s suggested that a majority of adopted individuals are well-adjusted, adolescent adoptees experience a greater risk for disruptive behavior disorders, and to a lesser extent, internalizing disorders (depression, withdrawal, anxiety, loneliness) than comparably aged non-adopted individuals. 3 4 In young adulthood, adoptees have increased odds of being diagnosed with substance use and other psychiatric disorders relative to non-adoptees. Furthermore, research examining Swedish national cohorts,1 2 revealed that both intercountry, or international, and domestic adoptees were at increased risk for even more serious indicators of maladjustment, including suicide attempt and completed suicide, compared with non-adopted individuals.
Keyes, Malone, Sharma, Iacono, and McGue (2013) at the University of Minnesota studied the risk of suicide attempt in adopted and non-adopted offspring in the U.S. The results of their research have become well known and oft-quoted. Their research indicated that the odds of a reported suicide attempt were four times greater in adoptees compared with non-adoptees. You can read the research article in full here.
The adoptee community has lost a number of adoptees to suicide, including Phillip Clay. Phillip was deported to his birth country, S. Korea, because, through no fault of his own, he never obtained U.S. citizenship. He had lived his entire life in the U.S. He ended his life at age 29. There are ongoing advocacy efforts being made related to adoptee deportation. It is with great sadness that I also include Kaleab Schmidt, age 13, Gabe Proctor, age 27, Emilie Olson, age 13, Thaddeus Farrow, age 27, and Jane Trybulski, age 14, who tragically took their own lives. There are others.
October 7-13, 2018, is Mental Illness Awareness Week. It was established in 1990 by Congress. World Mental Health Day is Wednesday, October 10, and National Depression Screening Day is October 11. To take an anonymous screening for depression, follow this link to helpyourselfhelpothers.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or experiencing suicidal ideation, please take the screening and reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources. Support can also be found in adoptee groups – many can be found on social media including InterCountry Adoptee Voices, Adoptees from Asia, Adoptees On, Adoptee Suicide Prevention, Overcoming Odds, and a Korean-American Adoptee Suicide Prevention Campaign. Additionally, check out Koreanamericanstory.org.
The more we bring awareness to mental health conditions, the more we take down the stigma and misunderstanding. I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, and I have loved ones who struggle with the debilitating effects of anxiety and depression daily. It is real, and it’s ongoing, sometimes despite medication. Support from others is essential. Just listening to someone who is struggling and validating their feelings provides more support than you know. Please help to educate others about mental health by openly discussing what it is and how to get help.
1 Hjern A, Lindblad F, Vinnerljung B. Suicide, psychiatric illness, and social maladjustment in intercountry adoptees in Sweden: a cohort study. Lancet. 2002; 360(9331):443–448.
2 von Borczyskowski A, Hjern A, Lindblad F, Vinnerljung B. Suicidal behaviour in national and international adult adoptees: A Swedish cohort study. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatry Epidemiol. 2006; 41(2):95–102
3 Juffer F, van Ijzendoorn MH. Behavior problems and mental health referrals of international adoptees: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2005; 293(20):2501–2515.
4 Keyes MA, Sharma A, Elkins IJ, Iacono WG, McGue M. The mental health of US adolescents adopted in infancy. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. 2008; 162(5):419–425.