This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. I’ve seen numerous posts on social media and it’s great to see so many people recognising the challenges of keeping our mental health strong. It is something that affects us all, whether we like to admit, or can even identify, it in ourselves sometimes.
As I’ve reflected on these posts and ran a training session on Monday for mental health within the adoption agency I now work for, I have been considering all the different aspects for those involved in adoption. That may be for adoptive parents, children and young people, professionals involved in the family or extended family and friends. We might all come across some of the difficult feelings around this complex world of adoption.
Being worried about what might happen in the future, or being overwhelmed by feelings of dread can be very common within adoption. Certainly, for children not knowing what is happening or what might happen to them and if they will be safe, must be terrifying. For many of us we may feel anxious about something we think will happen, but it never does. For children in care, it has happened! They have been abused and/or neglected, they have lost their homes and families and they are now living in what must feel like a foreign place at times.
Of course, for adopters too, anxiety is real and some of those things we feared could happen sometimes do. We might find it hard to bond when our child is placed. We might struggle to feel competent as a new parent or feel overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting an already traumatised child. We might feel guilt and shame about how difficult we are finding things and not want to admit that to professionals or to our family and friends.
For professionals you may feel anxious about how a new family is doing or how a young person might be once they leave your setting. Those niggling feelings that something is not right, but not knowing if you should take things further.
So many things can impact all those involved in adoption in terms of levels of anxiety. We need to hold in mind that things can be difficult as it’s not an easy situation for all involved. Making sure people are speaking out about how they feel and how they are coping is essential.
Noticing the frequency of ‘low mood’ can be difficult as there are many ups and downs in the adoption process. For children and young people who are experts at hiding their true feelings, they can go along for ages not really seeming to struggle. For example, we had an assessment feedback session with a psychologist last week for my 22-year-old daughter. In that report it talked about her levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. We knew she was anxious and struggling (hence the assessment for therapy) but didn’t realise the level of depression. She came out with moderate depression (which we hadn’t really appreciated), high levels of stress and severe levels of anxiety. All contributing to her difficulties with functioning right now. With her avoidant style of attachment, she has worked very hard to mask the depression and to keep her spirits up, often then exhausted when she comes home from having to pretend to others that she’s ok.
Recognising levels of depression in adoptive parents is hard too. We often are trying to manage very difficult circumstances and keeping everyone positive, that it can take its toll and become quite wearing. It is hard to admit to ourselves let alone to others that we may need help.
Even though this isn’t specifically mental health, the impact of lots of our children’s other conditions or challenges can affect our overall mood and capacity for resilience. My middle son has an ADHD diagnosis (recently given) that I’m struggling to understand and to manage with him. I know many other adopters who struggle with understanding the complexities of our children – FASD, ADHD, ASD, OCD, PDA to mention a few and of course the underpinning attachment difficulties that trauma presents. All of this can impact on parents, children, families, and professionals involved.
The sense of powerlessness and lack of control can be overwhelming too. I’m currently juggling a PIP appeal, housing applications, diagnosis assessments and where to go for them, universal credit meetings and job searches, driving lessons and independence for young people who are still of course impacted by their early years. I don’t say this to gain sympathy, but just to say that each challenge that’s then put on top of those can topple the Jenga pile with a huge crash.
Having supportive people around families is so crucial. I am very fortunate to have an amazing group of friends who help in all manner of ways. My children have friends and positive adults in their lives too that help. And even with all those things our mental health can take a battering sometimes. I try to be conscious of my own levels of stress and making sure I am looking after myself as much as I can.
So, whether you are a parent or carer, a young person, a professional or a friend of an adoptive family I hope you are finding those things that help you. The first step is recognising how we are impacted by the challenges of life and taking an honest look at our coping strategies. Are they healthy or in fact making things worse in the long run? I must continuously do that and make myself do those things I know help and are healthy. I’d encourage you to do the same and take heart – there are many of us in the same boat – you are not alone!