Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Use of Mental Health Services by Adults Who Were Adopted as Infants

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Use of Mental Health Services by Adults Who Were Adopted as Infants

Article excerpt

Adults adopted as infants (N = 156) were surveyed to determine the degree to which they had sought help or guidance with psychological issues during adolescence and adulthood. Less than 12% reported seeking help and women sought help more frequently than men. When they sought professional help, they mostly utilized counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, but frequently sought help from other sources such as friends, family, and support groups. The results of the study are discussed in light of literature that suggests this population is more frequently referred for help and recommendations are made for practice and research.


Adoption is an issue that affects 6 out of 10 people in the United States, either directly or indirectly (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 1997). The statistics on adoption demonstrate the extent to which adoption permeates our society. There are roughly 120,000 adoptions in the United States every year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2004). In 2000, for the first time, the U.S. government recognized the importance of studying adopted children and collected information on this population in the U. S. census.

Even though adoption is common in the United States, the research on the long-term outcomes of adoption is scarce (Lears, Guth, & Lewandowski, 1998). Much of it has focused on adjustment of adoptees in childhood and adolescence. Some research has shown adoptees struggle with a variety of psychological issues (e.g. Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992; Common Clinical Issues Among Adoptees, 1995; Issues facing adult adoptees, n.d.; Leon, 2002; Nickman, 1996; Stevens, 1995) and that some of those issues may persist into adulthood (Melina & Roszia, 1993; Child Welfare Information Gateway, formerly National Adoption Information Clearinghouse [CWIG], 2004). Additional studies have shown that adoptees are more likely than the general population to be treated for academic, emotional, or behavioral problems and be over-represented in mental and psychiatric hospitals. (Lears et al.; Miller et al., 2000). In contrast, other researchers have argued that individuals who are adopted experience no more mental health problems than individuals who are not adopted (Benson, Sharma, & Roehlkepartain, 1994a, 1994b; Hochman & Huston, 1995) and that most issues are resolved by adulthood (Nickman). Furthermore, the literature is clear about the degree to which children and adolescents are referred for help (Grotevant, 2000; Miller et al.), but less information exists about adult help-seeking behavior.

With about 20% of adoptions in the United States being domestic infant adoptions by non-relatives (Stolly, 1993; USDHHS, 2004), and with the lack of control for age of adoption in existing research literature, we chose to focus on this population. In order to better understand the help-seeking behaviors of individuals who are adopted, we decided to study adults who were adopted during infancy to determine the degree to which they reported seeking help or guidance on psychological issues during adolescence and adulthood and where they sought help.

Demographics of Adoption

During the 2000 Census, the government collected data for the first time on the number of adopted children living in U. S. households and a number of variables related to their adoption. The data revealed that 2.1 million adopted children and 4.4 million step children were living in American households. A higher percentage of Black children than White children were adopted. Thirteen percent were foreign born. Girls were adopted more often than boys because women prefer adopting girls and more girls are available through international agencies. In general, adopted children lived in families that were better off economically, compared to children who lived with their biological parents, and their parents were more often married, more highly educated, and more likely to own homes. …

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