' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Epilepsy, Adoption, Pharmaceuticals: Suicide

Monday, September 21, 2015

Epilepsy, Adoption, Pharmaceuticals: Suicide

Lorraine and daughter in 1982, happier times
National Suicide Prevention Week was earlier this month. Those who know my story know that my daughter committed suicide. This is one of the "Facts and Commentaries" from my recent book, Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption. My hope is that those suffering with any of the maladies listed here, or their friends and families, will see this as a cautionary message, and get help before it is too late. I tried, but could not save, my daughter.--lorraine

A few days after the first anniversary of my daughter’s suicide, in December of 2008, the Federal Drug Administration announced that it would require makers of epilepsy drugs to add a warning about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors to the products' prescribing information or labeling. Behaviors, I assume, means suicide attempts, some of them successful. Depakote, the drug Jane took, is on the list. The FDA actions are based on the agency's review of 199 clinical trials of 11 epilepsy drugs—released only a month after her death—showing that patients taking those drugs had almost twice the risk of suicidal behavior or thoughts than those taking a placebo.

But what was not answered was this: had the epileptics taking the placebo had their lives upended by as many seizures, great and small, as my daughter had?

I mentally add in the cocktail of drugs—an anti-depressant and Depakote—that Jane was taking. What about that? And what about the adoption?

While there are no good statistics on adoptees who actually commit suicide in this country, Google “suicide and adoption” and what pops up is a 2001 entry from Pediatrics, “Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide during Adolescence.”[1] In 2013 the finding was further refined when researchers at the University of Minnesota reported that adopted teens were almost four times more likely to attempt suicide than those who lived with their natural parents, even after adjustment for factors associated with suicidal behavior, such as psychiatric disorder symptoms, personality traits, family environment, and academic disengagement. Girls were more likely than boys to attempt suicide. About 75 percent of the adopted teens (more than 1,200, all living in Minnesota) in the study were adopted before the age of two and were foreign-born—mostly from South Korea.[2]

Other studies have found the same: In 1990, the Search Institute of Minneapolis, which studies what factors help children succeed, found that teenagers who were adopted as infants are more at risk for suicide than non-adopted youth. [3] A 2005 Swedish study focused on international adoptees and found they clearly were at greater risk for suicide than adoptees from the same country, but both groups had increased risk when compared to those who were living with their natural families.[4] Researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, in a large scale study of 6,500 students in grades seven through twelve, found that nearly eight percent of the adoptees had attempted suicide in the past year, compared with only three percent of their non-adopted peers.

B. J. Lifton wrote that at a seminar for adoptive parents when she voiced her opinion that the percentage of adoptee suicide was statistically high, a prominent psychiatrist asked if that nasty bit could be deleted from the tape, to be later sold as a record of the talk. B.J. agreed, but later wrote she was sorry she had.[5] When I mentioned adoption and suicide at a conference a few years ago, it was generally ignored. This is not a subject the adoption industry wants anyone to talk about. Adoption advocates like to dismiss it as “junk science,” but it is getting harder to do.

It is a subject certainly missing from adoption agency websites where they advertise “confidential, non-judgmental options” so you, the prospective mother,  can make an “informed choice.” A truly informed choice would include these hard facts, instead of gobbledygook about a better life with people who are almost always wealthier than the mother. My daughter did not have a better life. She had a different life. She had a life imprinted by being relinquished and not raised with her own people.

Google “suicide and epilepsy” and you get more than five thousand hits. “People with epilepsy are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population,” conclude the authors of an article published in Lancet Neurology[6] in 2007. 

Google “PMDD and suicide” or “PMDD and suicidal thoughts” and another wealth of articles pop up. (NOTE: My mother, myself and my daughter Jane were all susceptible to serious, debilitating pre-menstrual syndrome, known in its more serious form as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, shortened to PMDD on diagnostic charts. Jane committed suicide when she was premenstrual.)

Add them up or take your pick.

From my daughter's adoptive father, Gary, who makes the call to the Epilepsy Foundation in Madison to tell someone what happened, I hear that the news was met with: She lasted longer than most.

[1] G. Slap, E. Goodman and B. Huang, “Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide during Adolescence,” Pediatrics, August  2000, Vol. 108: 2, p. 30. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/108/2/e30
The study included students who were living with their mothers, adoptive or biological, and had not been separated from them for more than six months. All mothers were in their first marriages in order to filter out children of divorce. Not surprisingly, teens who contemplated suicide were more likely to be depressed, smoke cigarettes, engage in delinquent behavior, have low self-esteem and—be female. More recently, Psychiatric Times (January 26, 2009; http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1367897) reported that researchers at the University of Minnesota found that adopted youth had a higher incidence of clinical disorders (such as ADHD or ODD) than the non-adopted. Any research showing that adopted individuals had a higher incidence of emotional trauma and related problems has always been controversial and met with disdain by many in the adopting community, and are generally attributed to the greater income of many adoptive parents, and their acute sensitivity to their children’s welfare.

However, the researchers found this not to be true, but due to the fact that the adoptees exhibited more of the problems for which parents refer their kids to therapy. The Minnesota study included 540 non-adopted adolescents born in that state and 692 domestic and international adoptees. The study participants ranged in age from 11 to 21 years, and the average age at time of placement was four months. From the Psychiatric Times: “The assessments were rigorous and involved use of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-Revised (DICA-R) and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R (SCID-II). I’ve gone into detail here because this study has been attacked by adoptive parents on various blogs.

[2] Margaret A. Keyes, Stephen M. Malone, Anu Sharma, William G. Iacono and Matt McGue, “Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Nonadopted Offspring,” Pediatrics, 2013. 

[3] Lifton, Lost and Found, p. 311.

[4] Annika von Borczykowski, Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad and Bo Vinnerljung, “Suicidal Behavior in National and International Adoptees,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Feb. 2006, Vol. 41: 2, pp. 95-102.

[5] Lifton, Lost and Found, p. 311.

[6] The Lancet Neurology (2007, July 8). Epilepsy Means Three Times Higher Risk Of Committing Suicide, Study Suggests. Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070706143417.htm
May be shared and reblogged with credit
Saying goodbye to adoptee L'Wren Scott


Amazon review of Hole In My Heart:

"This riveting no-holds barred memoir is a must-read for anyone with ties to adoption in any way. Lorraine does not sugarcoat a thing as she tells us of her ups and downs through the years after giving up her daughter for adoption in the 1960’s. We are there with her every step of the way, experiencing and feeling all the raw emotions she feels, and the difficult (and happy) times she shares after eventually meeting her daughter Jane. She also shares with us important facts and information about adoption through the years, and how enormously difficult it could be to gain access to sealed records. ... I have 2 older siblings who were adopted in the 1960s, and look forward to sharing this book with them."


1 comment :

  1. NOBODY, knows how complicated any relationship is to ones parents. The same can be said about many, many people. I have known personally of some devastatingly complicated and deadly relationships that were so horrible they could not be contained within family walls. Most often with non adopted family members. Not being able to meet parental expectations is very common, and yes, damaging. How different that would have been had a person stayed with the birth mother cannot be assessed.

    I think your forum brings a valid viewpoint that is not brought into the picture for adoption scenarios, and should be something discussed. But the fact of the matter is that there are many, too many children who are being raised by parents who could not do it. The prisons, half way houses, shelters, and streets have too many of those who just had childhoods so terrible that they could not overcome. The stats are right there for that situation. A valid study should be put together to measure whether the adoption is a better solution for those who are going to have a baby and do not have the means and support to take care of one. The family members and people I know who found themselves in such situations and kept the child have not had good results as compared to their peers. Those who gave up the children or aborted them, have themselves done better in terms of self sufficiency, and those adopted children going to homes that were ready and willing and wanting to raise them have done well overall. That does not mean that there are not situation where it was overall all a net plus to have kept the child with the mother. But I think the overwhelming numbers will show that it is better for a child to be adopted. And that is WITHOUT including the quality of life of the parents who ended up adopting and WITH the regrets and primal pain of the mother giving up the child and the child given up. The measure being used is self sufficiency.

    My close childhood friend is finally recontacting the 4, yes, 4, children she gave up. All 4 self sufficient and doing well, better than she was doing those years when they were growing up as she really had no discipline to raise children, much as she regrets it now Her sister who did not give up children she had that were born in difficult times, has two in jail and the other two terrible messes, not at all self sufficient. But she and those grown children would swear up and down that they are glad and better off not being adopted. I don't think so, and neither would most people viewing the situation. Emotional judgement does not ring true most of the time. Maternal instinct is often wrong. Yes, we want to keep our babies, even if it's the wrong thing to do, when it's pretty danged clear that caring for another person is not going to be optimal or even adequate. All natural feelings are not the best way to go.

    My father gave up his son, due to the misery his own father inflicted on three children that he should have given up. My half brother was raised in a loving family, is highly successful by every measure. Yes, he did wonder about his natural father, wanted to seek his roots from there. I'm sure there was pain as part of the consequence but not anywhere nearly as far reaching as what would have been in trying to raise a child in abject poverty, depression, and an inability to make it work. The primal pain is part of the price one pays when giving up ones child even if it is for the better. Some things are painful no matter how wonderful the end result is. In fact, many things are.



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