Did you know that adopted children are more likely to commit suicide than non-adopted children? It’s a horrible fact to swallow, but study after study have found that adopted kids are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than kids who live with their biological families. We can talk all day about how sad it is, and why our kids shouldn’t feel the way that they do, but the studies provide the same answers every time—our kids are at risk. Here are six ways we can be proactive at home with our adopted children.
- Never expect gratitude. Kids who are made to feel like they are “lucky” to be in our families or “so blessed” to have a forever home carry a ton of extra pressure on their shoulders. WE are lucky to have them—they are the ones who, through no fault of their own, have to live a life that started with a trauma. When you hear family members or well-intentioned friends talk about the great deal your kid got in having you as a mom, shut it down quickly and hard.
- Allow “tough” emotions. Your kid is entitled to being angry or hurt about being adopted. Talk about these emotions and honor their existence. Sit with your son or daughter as they sort through their feelings and teach them that feeling empty or alone doesn’t necessarily translate to being totally alone. Encourage solo and family counselling if you feel like you two need extra help.
- Keep an eye out for self-medicating. In addition to suicide attempts, adopted kids are statistically more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Add depression or suicidal thoughts to that mix and you have an even more dangerous situation.
- Talk with your kids about their past—and make sure that sometimes YOU bring it up. Gather as much information as you can about their birth culture, families, and heritage. It is a quick jump for adolescent brains to make from “I don’t know anything about myself” to “I am nothing.” Your daughter may be hesitant to talk about her birth family, out of loyalty to her adopted family, so make sure that you show her that wondering about them isn’t something that hurts your feelings by initiating conversations as well.
- Provide mirrors for your adopted child—especially if she “sticks out” in your family. Kids need to see themselves in other people, and if you adopted a child from another country, race, or even a child who looks absolutely nothing like her siblings, it is up to us to provide places where she can see herself succeeding. When a kid feels like the “only one,” it is easy for loneliness and isolation to take a toll.
- Lobby for health information. Get as much medical history as you can for your kid. Learn if they have familial history of mental illness. Some states allow unrestricted access to birth and health histories when an adopted child reaches adulthood, but it’s currently an uphill battle in most areas. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about depression signs to look for in your child.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.