Mental Health in Adoption
By Jennifer Knight, Ohio Director of Social Services & Post Adoption Program Director
Mental health has become a more and more frequent topic of conversation in our society in recent years. Unfortunately, it has not always been in a helpful way. Mental health is often a scapegoat for events or behaviors that we can’t understand, and it’s presented at the end of the discussion. “Oh, he had a history of mental health issues,” or “She struggled with mental health problems,” as if that is, or should be, the end of the story.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so let’s try normalizing mental health conditions as they are – medical issues requiring treatment, like physical health conditions. Many individuals with powerful platforms have taken steps toward this normalization by publicly speaking of their mental health struggles, including Lady Gaga, Michael Phelps, Selena Gomez, and others. The more we can have honest conversations about the causes, impacts, and treatments of mental health, the closer we will move to a society where these conditions no longer carry a stigma.
In the adoption field, we know that mental health needs are something that our children and families deal with regularly. Adopted children will often have mental health diagnoses due to their early history’s abuse, neglect, separation, loss, and trauma. This trauma can present as confusing and problematic behaviors and frequently occur outside the home. Many adoptive parents may deal with depression and anxiety due to the feelings of isolation that can come from dealing with situations that even the most well-meaning friends and family members don’t understand.
To all of those living through this season right now, we see you.
You are not alone, and some people understand the challenges you’re dealing with. While it can be difficult to find the time, try to prioritize opportunities for self-care. See resources like this article from the National Institute of Mental Health for tips on managing self-care. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness; it also impacts your overall health and quality of life. Taking time for self-care can increase your ability to respond to your children’s needs in calm and responsive ways.
It is also vital that you remember to show yourself some grace. Everyone has bad days, and everyone will sometimes react to situations in a way that is not helpful. But you love your child or children, and you are doing the best you can. Don’t punish yourself for those mistakes. Forgive yourself, apologize to your child, and repair what you need to repair.
To those of you who have passed through this season and have reached the other side, we appreciate you.
Take an opportunity to encourage a family that is still in the day-to-day. (If you’re interested in doing this in an ongoing way, America World is seeking to launch a volunteer mentorship program this year. Please contact me to sign up as a mentor family!)
If you are a friend, family member, teacher, pastor, caretaker, provider, or neighbor of an adoptive family, seek ways to show grace and support.
One way you can support and encourage adoptive families is through the way you respond when some of those confusing and problematic behaviors manifest. Instead of frustration or annoyance, show parents and children patience and compassion.
Instead of labeling the child negatively (i.e., hyper, oppositional, or out of control), describe the behavior more positively. The child is full of energy, still learning boundaries, or their heart and head are feeling mixed up right now. Our words make a difference, and choosing words that demonstrate that you are not judging these children or their parents can make a significant difference in resolving a situation.
You could also offer practical support without being asked. Bring them dinner one night or send a DoorDash gift card so the family can enjoy a meal without cooking. Offer to babysit so mom and dad can have a date night and enjoy some of the self-care mentioned earlier.
Parenting is not easy.
Parenting adopted children comes with some unique challenges and experiences. This Mental Health Awareness Month, take some time to acknowledge the journey, normalize the experiences, and speak wellness into the life of an adoptive family, yours or one you know.
If you need additional support or assistance, please contact the Adoption Coaching and Training (ACT) team at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about our services that may meet your needs!
Also, if you’d like to donate to help us grow the ACT program, you can give online or contact our Development Specialist, Rob Kinsey, to discuss the possibilities. We appreciate your support!
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