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Home > Research Articles > Mental Health "Risk" in Adopted Children

Health Media Ltd

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Mental Health "Risk" in Adopted Children Health Media Ltd - August 12, 2002 Research has shown that intercountry adoptees adapt well during their pre-school years, but little is known about their mental health during adolescence and early adulthood. In Sweden, the European country with the largest population of children adopted from abroad, many of these intercountry adoptees are now reaching adolescence. Dr Anders Hjern and his team, from Stockholm, used the Swedish national registers to identify 11,320 intercountry adoptees born between 1970 and 1979. To investigate levels of mental-health disorders in this group, the scientists recruited 4,006 immigrant children, 2,343 Swedish-born siblings and a general population of 853,419 Swedish-born residents as comparison groups. The findings showed that, after adjustment for socio-economic and parental risk factors, adopted children were 3.6 times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general population. Levels of attempted suicide, psychiatric disorders, drug or alcohol abuse and criminal convictions were also considerably more prevalent in the adoptee group compared with other children living in similar socio-economic circumstances. There were no significant differences in schizophrenia or anorexia nervosa between the groups. "The issue is not whether adoptees are more likely to have mental-health disorders and have difficulty adjusting socially, but rather how to interpret these findings, why these difficulties exist, and what to do about them," the Swedish team said. They believe that adoption agencies should tell prospective adoptive parents about the increased risks of compromised long-term development in adopted children. Additionally, intercountry adoptees should be given high-priority access to treatment, say the researchers. However, Dr Wun Jung Kim, from the Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, disagrees. In an accompanying editorial, he said, "It cannot be overemphasised that most intercountry adoptees differ little from the general population in terms of mental health and delinquent or criminal behaviours." He notes that 84 per cent of males and 92 per cent of females in the adoptee group had no reported difficulties with social adjustment. To see more focused health-related content, go to http://www.health-news.co.uk (c) Health Media Ltd 2002