An important report, “Intercountry Adoption and Suicide in Australia: A Scoping Review,” has been released by the Australian Department of Social Services.
While it focuses on Australia, the report has great relevance to other countries, both sending and receiving. More research is needed, and there is enough research globally (especially from Europe and the US) that action is needed as well.
Please share this report with adoption agencies, adoption organizations, therapists, and anyone with a connection to the adoption community. We need both more research and more prevention strategies.
Recommendations from the report from authors Ryan Gustafsson and Patricia Fronek include the following:
- Increased collection of data on adoptee suicide.
- A question on connection to adoption in all health care settings (i.e., “Are you affected by adoption?”)
- A question about connection to adoption in practitioner interviews following suicide.
- Increased identification of risk and prevention strategies in the intercountry adopteee community.
- Development of practice guidelines (for therapists, counselors, health care practitioners) including adoptee experiences to inform interventions for at-risk adoptees.
- Increased awareness in adoption communities, in schools, and for therapists and health care practitioners, about suicide and intercountry adoptees.
Adoptees Connected with the Report
Among the adoptees who contributed to the research cited in the report are the following: Amanda Baden, Tobias Hübinette, Hollee McGinnis, Gina Samuels, Lina Vanegas, Indigo Willing, Soorien Zeldenrust, Dong-Mi Engels, and Inter Country Adoptee Voices (ICAV).
The art in the report was created by three Australian adoptee artists: Gabby Malpas, Ebony Hickey, and Jonas Haid.
Here are a few takeaways from the report.
“Barriers to communication about the adoption experience and the disconnect between how an adoptee is expected to feel and how they actually feel are commonly reported experiences. Living with a set of ‘unknowns’ can be particularly challenging during significant life events such as searching for first family or visiting country of origin, medical diagnoses, childbirth, or loss of family members. Moreover, these challenges are not necessarily resolved when an adoptee is able to reconnect with their first families.”
Impact of Racism
“In addition, experiences of racism, discrimination, and microaggressions have been documented in studies on transracial adoptee experiences (Fronek & Briggs, 2018; Hübinette & Tigervall, 2009). The isolating impacts of racism can be exacerbated if adoptive families are dismissive of adoptees’ experiences and can lead to ‘topic avoidance’ around issues of race within adoptive familial contexts (Chang, Feldman, & Easley, 2017; Docan-Morgan, 2010; Samuels, 2009). Racism, including everyday racism, functions to intensify difference and is a common experience for many adoptees in Australia as well as internationally (Walton, 2012).”
Studies on Suicide Risk and Adoptees
“Von Borczyskowski et al. (2011) compared outcomes for adoptees and non-adoptees born between 1946 and 1968, and found adoptees had higher rates of suicide, 8.5 compared to 5.2 per 1000 men and 3.9 compared to 2.0 per 1000 women. Although the researchers point to heritable risk factors, they also suggest that adoption itself may lead to increased suicide risk. In their investigation of the link between school grades, parental education, and suicide among Swedish birth cohorts born between 1972 and 1981, Björkenstam et al. (2011) found the suicide rate for adoptees was more than twice that of non-adoptees and a correlation was found between low school grades and suicide risk.”
“Elevated risks of death by suicide”
“The meta-analysis conducted by Campo-Arias, Egurrola-Pedraza and Herazo (2020) found that intercountry adoptees carried twice the risk for suicide attempts. The studies conducted in Nordic countries and Minnesota found elevated risks of death by suicide and non-fatal attempts up to four and five times greater for intercountry adoptees than other sections of the population…
It has been suggested that intercountry adoptees’ experiences of racialisation, racial isolation and discrimination lead in some cases to severe crises of identity and that adolescent adoptees can face additional difficulties regarding belonging and identity due to having to navigate multiple identities.”
“Systemic and everyday racism; Racial isolation, discrimination, and bullying“
“Hübinette (2012) contended that systemic and everyday racism, and the distinct bodily and affective impacts of transracial placements, must form part of analyses of intercountry adoptees’ heightened vulnerability and high suicide rates. Similarly, Schwekendiek (2019) described how the racial isolation, discrimination and bullying experienced by Korean adoptees contributes to social maladjustment.”
Recommendations for Health Care Practitioners
“Graham (2014, p.21) suggested including the question “are you affected by adoption?” in all healthcare intake settings nationwide, including crisis helpline services, as well as increasing awareness among practitioners of adoptee suicide risks. Similarly, Baden et al. (2016) recommended developing and implementing training programs for all clinical practitioners to ensure adoption-competent approaches to service provision and the need to develop evidence-based practices to intervene with adoptees at risk. Importantly, they recommended that instruments be validated, and interventions developed with intercountry adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents. The need for identifying, implementing, and evaluating post adoption support services is recommended (Gair, 2015; Fronek & Briggs, 2018). This is particularly important given adoptees identify that practitioners with limited knowledge of adoption is problematic when they seek help (Fronek & Briggs, 2018).”