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.

Twitter Chat December 16 on Adoption and Suicide

On December 16 (December 17 in some time zones), United Suicide Survivors International will host a Twitter Chat to #ElevatetheConvo about adoption and suicide.

I am honored to be among the panelists: it is a wonderful group. The subject is a tough one, and it deserves visibility. We are all focused on suicide prevention, and on hope and strength for our community.

Please tune in!

Resources (U.S.): 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255; counselors will respond.

You can also text 24/7 to 741741; counselors will respond.

Help is available. You are not alone.

“Is Pro-Life Evangelicalism Killing Adoptees?”

I have known and admired Sara Easterly for quite a while. She is a warm, smart, generous person. During National Adoption Awareness Month, I posted about her adoptee-centric writing groups, Adoptee Voices.

Sara’s essay “Is Pro-Life Evangelicalism Killing Adoptees?” was recently published in Red Letter Christians. The essay captures both the vulnerability and power of her writing, as a Christian, as an adoptee, as a daughter, and as a mother. I am sure the essay will be controversial in some circles, and welcomed in others. She speaks her truth with love, and that is hard to do.

Here are two excerpts:

There is little room for us in Evangelical spaces. At church, we’re often pimped as poster children for “the beautiful story of adoption.” In the Supreme Court, we’re often used as pro-life pawns for overturning abortion policy. Within earshot or to our faces, many of us are constantly hearing our adoptive parents gush about how adoption is “God’s will.” We’re frequently expected to be grateful for being saved. This is a reality though adoption has been riddled with corruption and coercion for over a century and many of us were not exactly saved, but rather, moved as objects into families of privilege—my own adoption an example of such.

“Because adoption is so widespread in the Church, nearly every Christian working within a Christian institution has a friend, sister, brother, aunt, or other close connection who is an adoptive parent. They’d rather remain gatekeepers from the truth than hurt their loved ones or upset advertisers. 

It’s been a sacrifice play, where the loudest, most privileged voices win. But if it’s killing adoptees in the process—whether spiritually or literally in suicide rates—is anyone really winning in the end? Where is the pro-life perspective on that?

Sara is a U.S., same race adoptee, placed with her adoptive family as an infant. She is, per her website, “an award-winning author of books and essays. Her memoir, Searching for Mom, won a Gold Medal in the Illumination Book Awards, was named a winner in the National Indie Excellence Awards, garnered a Silver Medal in the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, and received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, among other honors.

Sara’s essays and articles have been published by Dear AdoptionFeminine CollectiveHer View From HomeGodspace, Neufeld Institute, Psychology TodayRed Letter ChristiansSeverance Magazine, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), to name a few.”

Here is the whole essay. Thank you for your voice, Sara.

Webinar: Adoptees and Suicide Prevention

Last night (October 26, 2021), United Suicide Survivors International hosted a powerful webinar featuring four adult adoptees. Suicide is a tough subject, and the connection with adoption can seem surprising and troubling. I hope you will watch the video, and listen to the wisdom of Amanda Transue-Woolston, Kevin Barhydt, Jessenia Arias, and Lynelle Long. These four amazing people include authors, founders of adoptee-led and adoptee-focused organizations, and selfless contributors to improving the lives of adoptees.All have experienced suicidal ideation. As an adoptive parent, I am grateful to and in awe of them.

They do not seek attention or congratulations for their work. At the webinar, they shared their stories with grace, and they offered information, resources, and hope.

There were several important points. One that struck me was that, for many, 14 years of age was an especially pivotal time. For those of you who are raising teens, be aware that this age, with its hormones and developmental awakenings, may be particularly vulnerable. I am not a therapist, and of course you should consult with professionals as needed. I was though struck by this.

Another takeaway might be that while therapy can be valuable and vital to adoptees, if a child/teen is in therapy, the adoptive parents should be going too. Dropping off the teen at therapy is important: going to therapy yourself, as the parent, is also. I’d add that adoptive parents could also attend therapy even when their child is an adult.

If you are looking for therapists who are also adoptees, here is an excellent list, curated by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker.

I was heartened to see how many adopted adults attended, as well as adoptive parents and agency folks. The Chat was full of comments and questions. The whole webinar had a compelling energy, of both vulnerability and strength.

We skimmed only the surface in this hour, and there are many subjects we plan to dive into in the future. If you have ideas about topics, please feel free to share them here.

Take good care of yourself. Exercise self-care. Learn how to ask and talk about suicide, as one means of preventing suicide. I’ll be posting more resources soon. Help and information are available here and here, as starting points.

Be sure to follow the work of United Suicide Survivors International. They are the first suicide prevention platform I am aware of that has presented a webinar connected with adoption, and I appreciate that very much. Stay tuned for more.

Here is the video of the webinar via Facebook: