If you are an adoptive parent of a teenager, you might have been troubled to hear that adoptees are more likely than the average teenager to deal with mental health issues. A study from the University of Minnesota found that 14 percent of adoptees have behavioral or mental health issues; that’s twice the percentage that non-adopted individuals suffer from the same conditions. The reasons why this is the case can be vast and depend on a lot of different factors. Read on to find out more about mental health issues and how they might pertain to your adopted teen.
Demographics of Adoptive Families
It’s important to note that parents who privately adopt babies in the United States tend to be well-educated and at least upper-middle class. (This tendency stems from the high fees required to adopt a baby privately.) Parents who are in these demographics might be more likely than average to seek mental health care for their children when a problem presents itself. This could be because they are educated about what behaviors constitute an issue and also because they have the means to pay for the care (or for the health insurance that pays for the care).
This distinction is important because part of the reason for the increased number of adoptees in counseling or taking medication for mental health or behavioral issues might be that their parents were just more likely to seek care than other parents.
Teens Who Were Adopted During Infancy
If you adopted your teenager while he or she was still an infant, you might not think that there’s any reason why they would be more likely to develop a mental health or behavioral issue. Unfortunately, all the nurturing you have been providing your teen over the course of his or her lifetime might not be able to make up for the disadvantages he or she was exposed to before the adoption.
If your child was exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero, that could be one cause of mental health issues. Another issue is that your teen might have been neglected, abused, or otherwise not taken care of during his or her earliest weeks or months if you did not get custody of them as a newborn. There might have been one or more foster families that they got attached to and had to leave. Any or all of these issues might have impacted how your teen started off in life.
Of course, all teens go through some level of introspection and the process of figuring out who they are and what they have in common (or not in common) with their families. Even if you adopted your teen as a newborn from a healthy biological mother with no addictions or dependencies, your adopted teen might still develop some issues just because there is extra stress in the growing-up process.
Teens Who Were Adopted Later in Childhood
If you adopted your teen later in childhood, it’s likely that they suffered some great loss. Whether that was the death of their parents or an early childhood rife with trauma and abandonment, your child has been through a lot and might be predisposed to developing a mental health or behavioral issue. A teen adopted through the foster care system might have been shuffled from home to home and might have witnessed abuse, rape, drug use, and other disturbing behaviors.
Losses like this can affect a child for many years, well into adulthood. Children go through the stages of grief that adults go through, though they might present differently. The five stages of grief are:
If your child is in the anger or depression stages, they might have mental health issues to work through. A counselor can help your adopted teen get through these feelings.
Signs of Trouble to Watch For
As with any teen, you’ll want to watch for signs of mental illness in your adopted teen. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of the most common concerns for this age group. Some signs to watch for include the following.
Symptoms of depression:
- sadness or feelings of guilt that last two weeks or longer
- sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia
- marked changes in appetite
- a loss of interest in friends, activities or hobbies
- vague stomachaches, headaches, and other aches and pains; pulling away from people
- giving away prized possessions
- talking about or planning for death
Symptoms of anxiety:
- constant worry
- focusing excessively on how others perceive them
- unusual fears and phobias for a teen
- refusing to leave the house
- symptoms of a panic attack
- trouble sleeping
- a lack of appetite
Symptoms of behavioral disorders:
- excessive anger or rage
- extreme mood swings
- doing poorly in school
- the inability to keep a part-time job
- being expelled or suspended
There are other symptoms, too. In short, if your teen, adopted or not, is suddenly acting different, it’s a good idea to get the situation checked out.
Getting Help for Your Adopted Teen
If you are concerned about your teen’s mental or behavioral health, the first place to start is with his or her pediatrician. In some cases, mental health symptoms can be caused by physical health problems, so in most cases, those will be ruled out first. After that, the pediatrician can refer your child to the proper mental health specialist. Treatments will depend on the type of mental health condition present and might include cognitive behavioral therapy or medications.
It can be scary to find out that your teen has a mental health condition, and this is true whether or not your child is adopted. In some cases, mental illness is passed down genetically; if you don’t know much about your child’s biological parents, the news that your teen has a genetic predisposition to a mental health concern can be jarring. Don’t hesitate to get counseling for yourself in addition to treatment for your adopted teen. Working with a therapist can help you to be the best parent you can as you support your teenager through this difficult time.