Guest Writer Shanna Sullivan, LCSW
By Shanna Sullivan, LCSW
November is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), a month focused on adoption awareness. We often view adoption through a lens of celebration-our culture looks at adoption as a happy event to be celebrated. Many times, and for many reasons, adoption is a celebration. But adoption also brings complexity and difficult emotions, which can have a profound impact on mental health and wellness of adopted persons and everyone around them. There is not one single experience of adoption, so each person must be viewed as an individual and their experience unique. As NAAM comes to a close, here are three important things to know about adoption and mental health:
• Adoption is a lifelong process. It is not a singular event or day; it is an emotional experience affecting everyone involved. While it can be a celebration, it is also a grief process. This is true for families formed by kinship adoption, those who have adopted through public or private adoption, and those who honor a closed or open adoption agreement. This is also true for those who came to adoption by making a personal choice for adoption or whether a system chose adoption for them.
• Adopted youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than their non-adopted peers. The experience of adoption can be traumatic. Separation of an infant or child from their birth parents is a traumatic separation, even if everyone is in agreement. This is an experience of loss that needs to be acknowledged. When the loss part of adoption is not honored and held, it can lead to mental health challenges later in life.
• For communities of color, adoption experiences are often representative of a painful cultural history. Too many families have been separated and experienced deep grief and loss due to involvement with the child welfare system. Too many families have lost important history and cultural ties and have not had access to loving caregivers within their own community.
As an adoptive parent, social worker, and mental health therapist, I am all too familiar with the complexities that come with adoption. Most days are an absolute joy and privilege, but grief and loss are also a part of the experience and require just as much space in the heart. Many adopted persons turn to the mental health system for help and have difficulty finding help from professionals who understand the adoption experience. As we discuss our current mental health crisis in America, we need to bring adoption into the conversation and explore ways to create more access to adoption competent professionals who understand the complex experiences of adoption.
This National Adoption Awareness Month, take the time to check in with the adopted persons in your life. Ask them how they are doing and let them know you are there to listen and willing to hear their perspective. Adoption can be a celebration, yet also an experience of grief and loss that needs to be witnessed.
Shanna Sullivan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is a Registered Play Therapist, Clinical Supervisor and the owner of Be Like a Tree, LLC.