The short answer is sort of. But it's complicated...
While mental health issues are not always the case, sadly the majority of (older) children who are waiting for domestic or international adoption have or develop mental health issues at some point in their lives. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the factors surrounding this prevalence.
*Note, this article is in reference to older child adoption not infant or newborn adoption.
Do Adopted Children have More Mental Health Issues?
Research has shown that on average adopted (older) children are more likely to both develop mental health conditions, and have contact with mental health professionals, than non-adopted children. The odds of an adopted child being diagnosed with specific health conditions such as ADHD increases dramatically, with adopted children on average twice as likely to develop some mental health conditions than their non-adopted peers.
Why is This?
Children placed for adoption, typically those over a year of age, but not exclusively, have often come from a home that was unsuitable, and may have experienced trauma prior to intervention from social services. Trauma is a very complex thing, and can manifest in so many ways, and even if a child cannot remember the event, their bodies often can. The effects of this trauma may be noticeable from early in the child’s adoption journey, but can also manifest suddenly or gradually as the child ages and starts to become more aware of their sense of self and personal history.
What are the Most Common Mental Health Issues Found in Adopted Children?
Mental health disorders are subjective and span an entire spectrum. It is impossible to attach a specific set of conditions to adopted children, who may or may not manifest mental health issues of their own that reflect both their current needs and the processing of their past traumas. However, what we can mention is the types of mental health conditions that adopted children are statistically more likely to develop:
- ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- ADHD: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Conduct disorders
- Depression (which can manifest in a variety of specified disorders)
- Anxiety issues (such as separation anxiety and social anxiety)
- Anger problems (which may or may not be connected to an underlying mental health need)
- Mental health conditions connected to self-esteem/personality/self-perception, which may or may not result in self harm, self sabotage, or reckless behaviours.
Parenting and Support
Any of us at any stage can develop issues with mental health, no matter if we were a part of domestic adoption, international adoption, foster care, etc. In fact, 1 in 3 of us will experience problems with mental health at some point in our lives. Adopted children are simply at a greater risk due to prior life experiences.
However, with the right parenting, time, and support, these challenges, should they arise can be surmounted, and do not need to become a life-changing or life-limiting issue. Parents should also remember that it’s always okay to seek professional help; doing so does not reflect badly upon parenting skills, and can help you to help your child in the best way possible through increasing your understanding and equipping your child with the skills they need to overcome their problems.