Realities and Remembrances Around Suicide and Adoption

My post today is a retrospective and resource guide of sorts. I am linking to my previously published posts about suicide and adoption, among the hardest topics to write about. Still. I want to honor the memory of Fisseha Sol Samuel, who died by suicide four years ago today.

There are other adoptees I’ve written about as well, who died by suicide: Gabe Proctor, Philip Clay, Kaleab Schmidt. In my own circle of deeply loved friends and family, (some adopted, some not), I know people who have had breakdowns, who have been hospitalized, who are on meds, and who have scars both visible and hidden, There are many others whom I have not written about and never will. I hold all of them in my heart. I hope you do too.

And maybe you have your own list of dear friends or family who have considered, attempted, or died by suicide. Maybe suicide is something you have considered yourself. My heart acknowledges and aches for your sorrow.

Please know that there are resources and help available. Please know that things can get better. Please know that there are people who would grieve your leaving the world, even if you don’t know them, or know them now.

Let me clear: Most adoptees don’t attempt or die by suicide. Suicides happen for complicated reasons, and adoption may or may not be a factor. That said, we need to be aware, and to talk about it. Suicide is, regardless of adoption status, a major public health concern.

It’s a cold, rainy day here today, and we are going through complicated, difficult times in the world. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone. There are no magic wands. There is still, though, purpose and the potential for joy. Always. 

Here are a few links to my previous posts. Click on them if you wish. I offer them with the hope they may be useful. May those who have died be at peace. May those of us still here be at peace as well.

Here are some other statistics and resources:

Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016:
    • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
    • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
    • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).

LGBT Youth at Higher Risk For Suicide Attempts  

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

Tomorrow (October 10) is World Mental Health Day: Here is information about it from the World Health Organization.

 

Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering

Update: For resources about adoption-related suicide awareness and prevention, here is information.

Just this morning, as I was getting ready to post this, I read on my Facebook feed about a 28-year-old Korean adoptee who died by suicide two days ago. I did not know her. She was the same age as my oldest son, and she had a daughter about the age of my granddaughter. May she rest in peace.

I am holding in my heart a 20-something-year-old adoptee, adopted with a biological sibling into a huge adoptive family (more than 25 kids). He is overwhelmed all the time these days, as a result of things he has done and has had done to him. He wants to go home, though he’s not sure any longer where “home” is. He is in great need of mental health services, and is intently resisting help. He is teetering on the edge of suicide.

Yes, I know most adoptees do well. But this one is struggling, and it appears to be the result of events after he was adopted. His adoptive family has abandoned him.

My two most shared blog posts (shared over 1000 times on Facebook) are “Does ‘Adoption’ Really Equal ‘Trauma’?” and “Fisseha Sol Samuel: Irreplaceably Marvelous.” Both deal with a hard side of life: trauma and suicide. The first post says, yes, adoption is trauma, and there is a spectrum of response to it. The second post was written last October following the suicide of an Ethiopian adoptee who had previously exhibited no symptoms of depression, and whose death was likely (we will never know for sure) the result of a sudden, triggering, traumatizing event in which he was overwhelmed and impulsive. Fisseha’s mother, Melissa Faye Green, has written several powerful posts as she sorts through her son’s death.

Here is an excerpt from my post about Fisseha:

“There is sobering research that says that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s here in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not lightweight stuff, and even more startling in that the mean age of the 1000 participants was about 14. Out of the total group, which included adoptees and biological children, 56 had attempted suicide; 47 of those were adoptees.”

I am holding in my heart a 14-year-old Eastern European adoptee, who is too familiar with drugs and sex, who is loved deeply by her adoptive parents, who is in various therapies, who cuts herself and threatens suicide often. She can be a bubbly, sweet teen, and also a deeply frightened and frightening out-of-control mystery.

Yes, her struggle may not be the result of being adopted, but rather of what happened to her before she was adopted. She is struggling, and those who love her are deeply worried.

No one enjoys thinking of adoption as a trauma. No one likes to talk about suicide. And, I know: most adoptees–most people generally–don’t consider or die by suicide.

That said, let’s start thinking and talking about the link among adoption, trauma, and suicide. Let’s insist that suicide awareness be a part of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Let’s demand that anyone who claims “adoption competency” in their therapeutic practice is extremely knowledgeable about suicide. Let’s actively and shamelessly share resources to prevent suicide. Let’s request workshops like “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption” as a topic at adoption-related conferences. We need to stop whispering about suicide and adoption, and to speak about it with clarity and without fear.

I am holding in my heart a 16-year-old adoptee from India, beloved by her adoptive family, mentored by an adult Indian adoptee, raised in Minnesotan suburbs, who killed herself about a month ago.

Yes, she struggled, and also was offered and received help. She may be at peace now, though all those left behind are filled with sorrow and questions.

These 3 adoptees are among the reasons that we must talk about the role of trauma and suicide in adoption.

A few weeks ago, I was at the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. The main legislative advocacy effort of the AAC has historically been access to original birth certificates, a means of allowing adopted persons to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

What is the connection between suicide and the AAC’s legislative efforts? Well, there may be a genetic component to the likelihood of suicide. Access to one’s medical and mental health history–too often denied to adopted persons–could be a matter of life and death. Knowing about a history of depression or other mental illnesses in one’s family could mean proactive treatment and interventions. It is yet another reason that closed records are unfair, untenable, and wrong.

Here are links to two medical journal articles:

Genetic and Familial Environmental Effects on Suicide – An Adoption Study of Siblings

Genetics of Suicide: An Overview

Many adoptees are adopted into families where the adoptive parents are well off financially, have attended college, and are in highly regarded professions.The adopted children go to excellent schools and often have wonderful opportunities. Still. Take a look at “Best, Brightest–And Saddest?”, in which Frank Bruni reflects on the “suicide contagion” among teens in Palo Alto and elsewhere who are under pressure to succeed academically in highly competitive situations. The article cites a CDC report that says 17 percent of American high school students considered suicide in 2012. Eight percent said they’d attempted it.

Suicide, of course, feeds on trauma and depression, and does not discriminate based on economics and education. While the “suicide cluster” among high schoolers in “epicenters of overachievement” is discussed in the New York Times’ article above, there has also been a similar tragedy–which has not made national press–among young people in Seattle. Three young men, ages 18, 18, and 20, who were students at the Seattle Interagency Academy (SIA), died by suicide, within a 4 month period in the last year. SIA works with at-risk youth, who have struggling families and who are often homeless or on probation. Listen to an excellent podcast with the SIA principal here.

Coincidentally, there was a string of 7 suicides by adolescents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota around the same time. No one is quite sure why this is happening, though bullying and grim prospects for the future seem to be significant.

I don’t know if any of these young people had spent time in foster care or were adopted. Certainly, though, their life paths echoed those of many young people whose families are struggling mightily, and those struggles are often the reasons that children land in foster care and/or adoption. Racism and micro-aggressions can significantly affect the mental health of transracial adoptees; I wrote about that reality here. Even adoptees placed as infants in same-race families can struggle with loss, grief, identity, and feelings of not belonging. It’s clear that many of these challenges manifest in adolescence.

This is all daunting tough stuff. I am seeking a balance: to acknowledge suicide prevention as a goal about which we can all speak in the adoption community, not over-reacting, being pro-active, and supporting each other. My next post on this subject will give some resources.

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Light Through Trees, Forest near Lake Langano, Ethiopia © Maureen McCauley Evans

September Sadness: Searching for Balance and Light

It’s my birthday month! Along with my fellow September birthday celebrators Beyonce, Meat Loaf, Colin Firth, Sophia Loren, Bruce Springsteen, Will Smith, Lil Wayne, Adam Sandler. I hope you sent them all a clever card. Those sharing my exact day include Hilary Duff, Young Jeezy, Brigitte Bardot, and Naomi Watts. We have in common that we all fall under the sign of Libra, seeking balance.

September, it turns out, can be a very hard month, a time when any of us can feel sad, depressed, anxious, or triggered, as individuals and as a species.

What might be some of the reasons for sadness in September?

* Change of seasons: In at least part of the world, it’s the end of summer, and the days get shorter, darker, and cooler. We stay indoors more. We put on more clothes. We may sleep more, but not feel refreshed.

* September 11 is globally observed as a day of mourning and loss.

* The Autumnal Equinox happens on September 22, and the rapid changes of light can disturb our sense of peace.

* September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

* We send our children off to school, an event that is wonderful and hopeful, but also leaves our homes emptier. The kids are growing up. September means some kids leave home completely.

By mid-late September, the glow of summer has faded, and the challenges of school are firmly in place: bullying, homework, learning disabilities, cliques, meetings, deadlines, projects, testing.

* Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is in full swing. It’s real. It affects those with bipolar disorder, as well as lots of other people. It also affects the friends and families of anyone struggling with SAD.

All of the above is depressing, right? Yes. So let’s be with it, talk about it, acknowledge it, and look at ways to understand and deal with it.

It’s that Libra balance that Keanu Reeves (birthday September 2) and I share (well, maybe): the interest in acknowledging the challenge of September, and in finding the counterpoint in a strategy.

Let’s start with the aptly named SAD. Here is one reason many folks feel depressed and lethargic:  Our skin has an amazing ability to take in sunshine and change it into Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps us to regulate our positive moods. Not enough sunshine, not enough Vitamin D, not enough positive mood.

So, extra Vitamin D can help.

Another reason for feeling down and disconnected is that, in darker days, our bodies produce more melatonin, a hormone that helps us regulate our sleeping patterns. More melatonin can mean disrupted sleep that doesn’t make us feel better.

I drew from this source for the above information about SAD.

Another good approach can be light therapy, something quite popular here in the Pacific Northwest and applicable to many other geographies, including your living room. Basically it’s a supplement of artificial light to make you feel better. Read about it here.

A final note about SAD is that it affects not only humans but also some animals, according to this article from Live Science. A quote, casually placed in the article: “For instance, during long winter days, the Siberian hamsters’ testes increase to almost 17 times their size during short days.” Whoa.

Click here for more information about SAD.

Some of us experience disruption and an undercurrent of sadness during September; some of us deal with significant depression. Even if you’re doing fine, it’s hard to see your friends and family members struggling, a little or a lot. I mentioned above that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Most suicides, though, don’t happen in September. They happen more often in spring or early summer. Find info about myths and facts about suicide here. We humans are complex creatures.

If you have a loved one struggling, or if you are, here’s a site with loads of information and links.

If you encounter someone on the Internet, on Facebook for example, who seems to be dealing with depression or considering suicide, there are ways to reach out and offer help. Here’s a good source for online helping.

Of course, consult your doctor, your mental health provider, your (trusted, trained, experienced) source of medical information, whoever that may be.

You’re not alone with this, whether you are dealing with depression (or related realities), or trying to help someone else. It’s a hard road. The National Association of Mental Illness has a site to share stories and get support, called Not Alone.

I urge anyone struggling with sadness in September to reach out for help. There’s no shame in it. May we be open to asking for and accepting help. May we offer and give help. May we be open to laughter and love. May we find light on dark days, in September or whenever they occur.