Increased suicide risk among adoptees

We are all aware of the prevalence of depression and alienation among adoptees, stemming in some cases, from the earliest moment of separation and resulting in a grief that may become subterfuge throughout the adoptee’s life.  Parents, friends and loved ones try to cope with a potential lack of ability to form intimate bonds, but what of adoptees themselves?  Their suffering may manifest in the severest form of alienation; some say, individuation, that is, suicide.  Loneliness and separateness, often described as “not fitting in”, often permeates as lifelong feeling many adoptees.  Corroboration exists in the research that there is a higher risk factor for suicide among adoptees.  The thing to ask is how can families stem the tide, and act forcibly against a rising current of adolescent alienation, grief, shame, and unattended trauma.

Gail Slap, MD, Elizabeth Goodman, MD, and Bin Huang, MD write in their conclusion of Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide during Adolescence: “Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents.  The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly. Although the mechanism underlying the association remains unclear, recognizing the adoptive status may help health care providers to identify youths who are at risk and to intervene before a suicide attempt occurs.”

“It is important to note, however, that the great majority of adopted youths do not attempt suicide and that adopted and non-adopted youths in this study did not differ in other aspects of emotional and behavioral health.  Furthermore, high family connectedness decreases the likelihood of suicide attempts, regardless of adoptive status and represents a protective factor for all adolescents” (Slap, Goodman & Huang, 2001. Adoption as a risk factor for attempted suicide during adolescence. Pediatrics Vol. 108 No. 2 August 1, 2001 pp. e30).

The need for family support services is being met in many states by Adoptive Family Preservation Programs (AFP), (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007).  Their model is derived from The National Consortium for Post Legal Adoption Services, whose model states, among other things, “Adoption is different,” and “Adoption is lifelong” (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007).  This is a good place to start.  Attending to the feelings, fantasies and sense of isolation adoptees may experience counts as an act of courage and prevention on the part of parents, friends and loved ones.

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