If You Can’t Do This, Why Can You Do This ?

It is well known that simply being adopted is a risk for mental illness impacts like depression, anxiety and suicide. What is less often discussed is whether or not people with a history of mental illness should adopt. Adoptees deserve the best possible care and that means anyone who has had a history of mental health illnesses shouldn’t be adopting. You can’t own a gun, if you suffer from mental health illnesses. You can’t work certain jobs. Your restricted from other things. So WHY should you be allowed to raise someone else’s children ?

Understandably, many adults with a history of psychiatric illness prefer to adopt rather than have biological children. They may have concerns about psychiatric destabilization during pregnancy or that they may pass some genetic factor onto their unborn child. Certainly, if they are currently under medication, there is a concern about the impact of that pharmaceutical on the unborn child.

Child adoption laws vary from state to state. Although some licensed adoption agencies sympathize with potential adoptive parents with a history of mental illness, the law usually considers the following factors:
• the potential adopter’s emotional ties to the child
• their parenting skills
• emotional needs of the child
• the potential adopter’s desire to maintain continuity of the child’s care
• permanence of the family unit of the proposed home
• the physical, moral, and mental fitness of the potential parent.

Interestingly, an adoptee put forth this perspective – my adopted mother has always been open about her struggles with mental health (and the therapy and meds she uses to manage them) which in turn made *me* feel safe in coming to her with my struggles and she supported me as I sought therapy and medication as well. Mental illness isn’t some character flaw, it’s no one’s fault, and it shouldn’t be an excluding factor in and of itself. Plenty of biological parents have these issues as well. As long as a person is taking care of their mental health, whether it’s therapy or medications, and isn’t dangerous to themselves or others, it’s no one’s business and it isn’t relevant.

And this one offers an even broader perspective –  I’m an adoptee, and an adoptive parent. I’m also a therapist. I also have a managed anxiety disorder. I think asking people to have their mental illness well managed is one thing — and requiring psychiatric approval (from their therapist or whomever is overseeing their care), and there’s certainly diagnosis’ that should be precluded (likely anything progressive or personality wise). But most people could fit in to a mental health diagnosis at one point or another in their life. How people manage that mental illness and cope with it is the bigger picture.

One woman wrote – I do not think mental health illness = abuse but I do think abuse= mental health illness. I think you must be mentally ill, if you are abusing children.

One woman admitted –  I had no idea how my depression would be exacerbated by raising a family — and a adoptive one at that. Rather than restrictions, I think that there should be a medical screening process to ensure health (was this part of it? I don’t recall). Let a doctor decide limitations if need be. And I believe that there should be a foster parent mental health class that really discusses what it takes, the triggers, pitfalls etc. My own mental health was the thing I was the least prepared for. That said, I am receiving LOTS of support as are my children. We are ok and sometimes thriving, despite world events. But it took a while for us to get here. And I’m divorcing as part of this, because my soon to be-ex wasn’t mentally healthy enough to do this. It’s a lot.

And there was this from personal experience – My adoptive mom had a medicine cabinet full for all her needs. Depression, anxiety, sleep, ADHD, a few for physical like thyroid and I’m not sure what else but know it was about a dozen pills a day. My adoptive mom should’ve never been allowed to adopt me. She’s a batshit crazy narcissist. She needed all of us kids to have meds too – so I was flying high being treated for ADHD despite not needing it. She was a nurse who worked for our family doctor, so getting us diagnosed with anything was quite simple. To clarify I don’t think her being a shit parent was due to her possibly having depression or anxiety, honestly I’m not sure she even had those types of issues but she had something that made her think she needed meds for everything and that we did too. She should’ve never been able to adopt me.

In disputing that abusing is a sign of mental illness, one commenter add this – Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues, researched this very topic some years ago. “I found that about half of abusers appeared to have no mental disorders. The other half had various mental disorders, including but not limited to psychopathy, narcissism, PTSD, depression and bipolar disorder.” However, she adds, “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness.” While there is certainly an overlap, it is not always a guarantee, and it’s dangerous to make that assumption.

Another one pointed out – not all mental health diagnosis’ are created equal and many are managed well with medications. Also many people have mental illness and have not been diagnosed. Would people be forced to get a psychological evaluation ? And often among couples one partner has no diagnosis’ and so, a child can still be parented well.

One adoptive parent wrote – I absolutely agree with the idea that hopeful adoptive parents should be held to higher standards. I’m not sure how that would play out with mental illness but I do think hopeful adoptive parents with mental illness should have clear treatment plans and a consistent history of following through with their treatment plans. They should also be able to demonstrate the length of time they have been in stable mental health.

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