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Overseas Adoptees May Have Health Problems

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  • Sunny Jo <midnight.sun@canada.com>
    Overseas Adoptees May Have Health Problems Higher Rate of Depression, Suicide, Substance Abuse By Salynn Boyles Reviewed By Gary Vogin, MD on Thursday, August
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2003
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      Overseas Adoptees May Have Health Problems

      Higher Rate of Depression, Suicide, Substance Abuse

      Salynn Boyles

      Reviewed By Gary Vogin, MD
      Thursday, August 08, 2002

      WebMD Feature

      Aug. 8, 2002 -- More Americans than ever are adopting
      from foreign countries, with
      nearly 19,000 international adoptions taking place
      just last year. While the vast
      majority of children thrive, new research from Sweden
      suggests that international
      adoptees may be at risk for depression and other
      mental health problems as they
      get older.

      Using a national mental health registry, the Swedish
      researchers concluded that
      children adopted from abroad had a higher incidence of
      suicide, substance abuse,
      and treatment for depression during their adolescent
      and early adult years than
      children who were born in Sweden or immigrated to the
      country with a parent.

      The authors are quick to point out that most of the
      adoptees studied -- 82% of the
      boys and 92% of the girls -- had no record of mental
      health problems at all. But
      after adjusting for other risk factors, foreign
      adoptees were three to five times more
      likely to commit suicide, attempt suicide, receive
      treatment for psychiatric problems,
      or abuse alcohol or drugs than were those in the
      general population. The findings
      are reported Aug. 10 in The Lancet.

      "The message here is certainly not that children who
      are adopted internationally are
      going to have mental health or adjustment problems,"
      lead author Anders Hjern,
      tells WebMD. "We don't really know if these findings
      represent a real difference
      because there were so many things that we could not
      measure with a study like

      Hjern says more research is needed to determine the
      true frequency of mental
      health and adjustment problems among internationally
      adopted children, and to
      better understand why these problems occur. He adds
      that adoption agencies should
      do a better job of following children and educating
      parents about the potential for
      adjustment problems.

      Susan Soon-keum Cox, now 50, was adopted from Korea in
      1956, making her one of
      the first international adoptees in the U.S. She now
      works with the adoption agency
      Holt International, which has placed close to 50,000
      orphans from other countries
      with American families over the past five decades.

      She says adjustment issues vary from child to child,
      but there tend to be fewer
      problems these days than in the past. Holt
      International recently took part in
      research following up on Korean and Vietnamese
      adoptees now in their mid 20s and
      older. The most frequently reported problems were
      cultural and racial identity issues.

      "When I was adopted, the prevailing belief was that
      children needed to become
      acclimated and Americanized as quickly as possible so
      that they would fit in," she
      says. "We now know, after a couple of generations,
      that children become acclimated
      almost by osmosis. A more difficult challenge is to
      keep them connected to the
      country and cultural heritage of their birth to give
      them a clear sense of identify. We
      are much better at doing that now."

      Holt and many other international adoption agencies
      now hold regular reunions and
      camps designed to educate children about the culture
      and heritage of their birth
      country. And many parents now embrace their children's
      birth culture instead of
      ignoring it.

      Martha Osborne runs the international adoption
      Internet site RainbowKids.com and
      is the mother of five children, aged 3-12, adopted
      from China and Korea. She says
      there is a certain amount of angst among many of the
      adult adoptees who take part
      in web discussion groups. But many also say they
      wrongly blamed being adopted for
      normal problems of adolescence.

      "As an adoptee and an adoptive mom I can tell you that
      kids are going to have some
      issues. There is always a certain amount of
      unhappiness that goes along with the
      joy and happiness. The best that parents can do is be
      the steady force."

      © 2002 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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