Suicide Prevention Awareness in the Adoption Community

This is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a good time to learn about suicide and to work to prevent it. It’s a tough topic, and its role in the adoption community is painful.

Here are some resources, from adoptees and other experts.

Adoption Trauma as a Risk Factor in Suicide: Tomorrow night, Wednesday September 20, 5:30 pdt, join an on-line discussion with Lina Vanegas, MSW, a consultant, speaker, writer, displaced person from Colombia, and Mila Konomos, a poet, artist, dissident, survivor of adoption trade from Korea. You can get the Zoom link via Instagram: linaleadswithlove and the_empress_han. Be sure to follow both of them on IG.

A frequently cited research study is Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Nonadopted Offspring, via Pediatrics., from 2013. One of the findings was that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma and an adoptee from South Korea, provides an important and insightful perspective on that study and others about the linkage between adoption and suicide: Research on Adoptees and Suicide.

(Note: I have seen the 2013 report often cited as saying adoptees are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-adoptees. That is incorrect. I recognize that “four times more likely to attempt suicide” is also a grim reality. The distinction between attempts and actual deaths, though, is important.)

In October 2022, a panel of 4 adult adoptees talked about how trauma and suicide had affected their lives. Here is the YouTube video, via United Suicide Survivors International: Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.

Inter Country Adoptee Voices has many articles and webinars on the complexity of adoption and suicide, from the perspective of the lived experiences of adult adoptees.

International Research:

In November 2022, the Department of Social Services in Australia published INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION AND SUICIDE IN AUSTRALIA: A Scoping Review. While it contains an overview of academic and other reports, it also cites the need for much more research.

Comparing Childhood Characteristics of Adopted and Non-adopted Individuals Deceased by Suicide “The aim of this study was to compare adopted with non-adopted individuals deceased by suicide to find a potential specificity in adopted individuals deceased by suicide. Results show significant differences: a higher incidence of ADHD, mental health comorbidity and Cluster C personality disorders among adopted individuals. Moreover, adopted individuals have higher adversity scores prior to the age of 15.” (2022, Quebec, Canada)

What about trauma? Accounting for trauma exposure and symptoms in the risk of suicide among adolescents who have been adopted “Although much remains to be explored about the association between adoption and risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, the current study indicates that traumatic stress plays a critical role.” (2022, USA)

Executive function and early adversity in internationally adopted children “Although adoption offers a protective context that promotes cognitive development, difficulties in executive processes are still evident after an average of seven years in the adoptive family. Adoptive parents should be equipped with strategies to satisfy their child’s needs, and targeted interventions could be implemented to prevent future difficulties in their development.” (2020, Study of Russian children adopted to Spain)

Increased risk of suicidal behaviour in non-European international adoptees decreases with age – A Swedish national cohort study

“Non-European international adoptees are at particular risk for suicidal behaviour in youth, probably due to enhanced identity problems. The decreasing risk of suicide with age and over the decades in non-European international adoptees suggests that some of their difficulties may be transient and can be addressed socially and professionally. Postadoption clinical services are particularly important for late adoptees and in the transition from childhood to adulthood.” (2020, Sweden)

Relationship Between Adoption and Suicide Attempts: A Meta-analysis From “Conclusions: The adoption situation can increase suicide attempts; it predicts at least two times more cases of suicide attempts among adopted people than in the general population…” (2020, Colombia)

Much more research is needed, especially in the adoption community. In the meantime, we all can continue to learn, and to promote the prevention of suicide.

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