I write and talk about adoption and suicide because many folks don’t see any connection. Bear in mind: it’s not a statistically large connection, and I do not want to pathologize adoptees.
Here’s the thing though. The popular narrative around adoption is that it is win-win-win, and that adoptees should be happy and grateful. That is not always the case. Adoptees can love their adoptive family, have a positive family life, and still struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. And of course, they can also experience abuse and neglect, and thus struggle with depression and ideation.
As part of sharing information about suicide prevention, I wrote in April about the new 988 number that takes effect in mid-July here in the U.S. for folks experiencing a mental health crisis, including attempting suicide. When you call 988, you will not be connected to the police, but to mental health counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The police could still be called if a person in a mental health crisis was dangerous or committing a crime, but they would not be the first responders.
That’s important because people in a mental health crisis can be harmed or worse by police intervention; that may be especially true for Black and brown folks. They could be arrested, thrown in jail, tased, or otherwise traumatized while dealing with mental illness or a related crisis, including attempting suicide.
So the new 988 is a potentially good development for anyone, including adoptees, who are looking for help in crisis.
Crisis management is important, as is being proactive with resources around suicide prevention and adoption.
There is some correlation between substance abuse/addictions and suicide. There is also some correlation between adoption and substance abuse/addictions. So it’s important to be aware of the intersection of adoption, addictions, and suicide. There is lots of information available. There are also resources for adoptees.
AdopteesOn podcasts are always incredibly thoughtful and insightful. Here’s a link to the conversation with adoptee Miguel Caballero. From the AdopteesOn site: “Miguel shares some of his story with us including how he got sober eight years ago. There are so many adopted people who struggle with addiction, and Miguel describes feeling that he had a birth-mother-shaped hole to fill. He’s gone on to fill a great need in our community by starting the peer-led support group Adoptees and Addiction.”
Every Sunday, adopted people can attend this peer-led support group via Zoom: check out Miguel’s site, Adoptees and Addictions. From the site: “Most members would say that the power of the group comes from being in a meeting where you don’t have to explain anything about being an adoptee, where you can talk about adoptee issues or addiction issues without fear of judgment or misunderstanding and with lots of heads actually nodding in recognition along with what you’re saying.”
Zara Phillips, an adopted person, is an “Adoption/Addiction Recovery Coach.” She offers individual sessions, and she works “alongside therapists and a team of people to help you move forward.”
Zara is a speaker along with Gabor Maté on this video, “The Trauma of Relinquishment – Adoption, Addiction, and Beyond.”
Paul Sunderland gave a valuable lecture on “Adoption and Addiction.” Many folks consider it to be one of the best talks ever on the issue.
Join me in becoming an advocate for information, and for increased awareness of suicide prevention within the adoption community. A good resource, though not adoption-specific, is the recent podcast “What Do Parents Need to Know About Suicide?” from “Ask Lisa: the psychology of parenting.” The guest is Dr. Jonathan Singer, co-author of Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-Level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention, and Postvention. The podcast is less than a half hour long, and includes several useful points: Most suicides occur in the springtime and fall, not around holidays. Cutting can be a step toward suicide, but not always by any means. Sleep is one of the most important needs of teenagers.
Dr. Singer noted that suicides are increasing among Native American/Indigenous, Black, and Latino individuals. That said, white middle aged men have the highest rate of suicide. (There may be no correlation whatsoever here, but it may be interesting to consider that many transracial adoptees have white, middle aged adoptive fathers.)
I invite you to join me in this bit of advocacy: every time you see a tweet or a post about a suicide-related podcast or report, ask the speakers/writers to consider and promote research about the intersection of depression/suicide with adoption. You can cite the 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics report that found adoptees were four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. The adoption community needs much more and current information. Urge researchers, podcast hosts, writers, scholars, therapists, and doctors to speak out about this need.
Here’s what I tweeted to the Ask Lisa (@LDamour) podcast: “A strong podcast for parents of teens. Valuable info. That said: We need much more current research in the #adoption community re the intersection btwn adoption & #depression/#suicide“
I also invite you to advocate for suicide prevention training in schools. Elementary and high schools can be strong partners in suicide prevention. If your child attends school, ask the administration to provide a suicide prevention training for students, or a PTA program about suicide prevention. Information about trainings for schools is available from the Suicide Prevention Research Center, as well as “K-12 School Suicide Prevention” from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Also, if you are an adoptive parent, as I am, use your place in the adoption community to wholeheartedly uplift adoptee voices and lived experiences. Promote the wisdom of adoptees. Share their websites and research, their Twitter handles, and their publications and posts. Read #adopteetwitter and #adopteevoices. You can learn a great deal from a variety of adopted adults. Don’t feel compelled to comment—read and learn.
There is no magic wand around suicide prevention. There are, though, increasing numbers of resources, and reasons to be hopeful.