May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time that the US has observed since 1949. The idea behind this month-long observation is to increase awareness in general and to give people an avenue to speak up if they are struggling or need help. For this blog, we wanted to focus on the aspects of mental health as it pertains to adoption. We’ve written before about the struggles that adoptive parents face, from needing strong community support to leaning on their spouse during particularly stressful times. But we haven’t yet talked about mental health as it pertains to the adopted children. Of course, every child will be different as will every family’s experience, but hopefully some of the information below will prove helpful to those in need. If you or anyone in your family needs assistance, please reach out to your community and seek support and help.
Children with Pre-Existing Mental Health Challenges
Whether you are foster or adoptive parents, if you are caring for a child that is a bit older then there is a strong chance that the child’s experiences prior to you were difficult, at best. To further complicate the issue, many adoptive parents have no prior information about trauma, medical issues, and more. It’s the great unknown that so many adoptive parents face. These unknown histories can lead to more developed mental health challenges as the children get older, from anxiety and depression to attachment issues. To face these challenges, adoptive parents (and their larger families) need to reach out to a trauma specialist and openly discuss the challenges they face. Often, adoptive parents report feeling alone or disconnected from family and friends because they feel they can’t openly talk about challenges their family faces. But discussing these challenges is a great way to remove stigmas and embrace what mental health awareness month is all about.
The National Institutes of Health published a study in 2015 noting that while adopted children had about the same instances of mental health challenges, they were twice as likely to have contact with a mental health professional and to develop a behavioral challenge. This is good news for adoptive parents as it means that reaching out to professionals, talking about concerns and challenges, and finding educational and community support in the schools will help families face any behavioral or mental health challenges with ease. As the saying goes, it takes a village.