When we think about mental health problems among new mothers, postpartum depression probably comes to mind.
While this is a common condition, it’s also important to be aware of post adoption depression, which can also contribute to poor mental health. Learn about signs, symptoms, and causes of depression after adoption below.
What is post adoption depression?
As its name suggests, post adoption depression refers to depression symptoms that occur post adoption. Just as new mothers can experience depression after giving birth, it is possible to experience depression after adoption.
Research with post adoption depression syndrome shows that this condition is similar to postpartum depression that occurs among biological parents. Depression after adoption can affect both mothers and fathers, who may experience depression symptoms after bringing home a new baby.
Learn more about post adoption depression here:
Signs of post adoption depression
The signs of post adoption depression are similar to what is seen among parents with postpartum depression. These signs include:
Significant changes in appetite
Experiencing little interest in activities you used to enjoy
Struggling to concentrate or make decisions
Sadness or excessive crying
Rapid mood swings, which may involve anger or irritability
Feeling worthless, or as if you are not a good parent
Sometimes people are surprised to learn that the answer to, “Can you get postpartum depression after adoption?” is actually a resounding, “Yes!” After all, adoptive mothers have not experienced the changes to their bodies, or the dip in hormones, that occur after giving birth to the baby.
Furthermore, an adoptive father has not experienced the distress that can come with changes to his partner’s physical and emotional functioning during pregnancy.
So, what causes adoption depression? Researchers have suggested the following causes:
1. Unmet expectations
Families who have made the decision to adopt a baby may expect that the experience will be nothing but joyous. Perhaps they have chosen adoption because of infertility, and they feel that adopting a baby will help them to overcome their grief associated with being unable to conceive.
When the new baby comes to the home, and the family experiences the stress associated with the demands of a newborn, they may feel as if they have been let down.
They expected the adoption process to be positive, but when the reality of caring for a baby sets in, they can feel as if adopting did not meet their expectations. Ultimately, this leads to feelings of sadness.
In addition, unmet expectations may be related to having an adoptive child who has special needs and requires intensive care, especially if parents did not know they were going to be adopting a child with special needs.
Having a child who requires around-the-clock medical care or expensive healthcare services can increase the demands of parenting and lead to feelings of overwhelm.
Some parents may feel that they are not bonding appropriately with their new baby. This can lead to feelings of guilt or worthlessness, as parents may feel as if they are supposed to be overwhelmed with joy and experience an immediate connection with the new baby.
3. Lack of support
When a mother gives birth to a baby, the family is often surrounded with support. Neighbors and friends bring meals to the house, extended family offer to assist with childcare and housekeeping duties, and the mother is given time to allow her body to heal from childbirth.
Post adoption, families may not receive the same level of care and support, which makes them more prone to feeling overwhelmed and developing postpartum depression after adoption.
Even when adoptive parents are excited to have a baby placed in their home, they can become overwhelmed with the life changes that come along with a newborn baby.
Once a baby is in the home, parents must provide around-the-clock care, and even the best of parents may be unprepared for this change. Some parents may struggle to adjust to their loss of freedom and the extreme demands of having a newborn at home.
5. Perception of others
Perceptions of others and society as a whole have been cited as a reason for post adoption depression.
People may not view adoptive parents in the same light as biological parents. Some people may hold stigmatized views surrounding adoptive families, which can lead to symptoms of depression or adoption trauma symptoms.
In some cases, even extended family members, who could be a source of support, may view the adoption negatively. Perhaps they are critical of the adoptive parents for not having a biological child. In the case of single parent or LGBTQ families, perceptions of others may be even more negative.
Symptoms of post-adoption depression
Post-adoption depression is diagnosed using symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual defines symptoms of a depressive episode, which are the same as the symptoms of post adoption depression syndrome, as follows:
Loss of interest in usual activities
Thoughts of death or suicide
Unintentional weight loss or weight gain
Change in motor activity (either reduced activity or agitated activity, such as restless pacing)
Feelings of worthlessness
Extreme fatigue or low energy
Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
Sleep changes, such as sleeping too much or too little
To meet the criteria for depression, a person must show symptoms every day, for most of the day, for at least two weeks.
Treating post-adoption depression
If you’re experiencing post adoption depression or are having a hard time coping with the emotional effects of adoption, it is beneficial to reach out for help.
Professional interventions and supportive services can help you to overcome feelings of sadness or grief so that you can fully enjoy the experience of welcoming a child into your home.
Below are some services that can be beneficial for addressing post adoption depression.
1. Support groups
Attending a support group connects you to others who are experiencing the same challenges.
In adoption support group meetings, you can learn strategies that others are using to cope with post adoption depression, and receive friendship from those who understand your struggles and listen to you without passing judgment.
You and your partner may benefit from seeking counseling to help you cope with adoption depression. In counseling sessions you can explore your emotions and learn strategies for coping more effectively with the psychological effects of adoption.
If your marriage or relationship has been negatively affected by depression after adoption, you can gain skills for managing conflict and rebuilding your intimacy.
If depression symptoms are lasting and do not subside with other treatments, like counseling and support groups, you may benefit from seeing a doctor to determine if antidepressant medications are an option for you.
These medications can correct physiological causes of depression and may alleviate some of your symptoms.
Post-adoption depression facts
If you’re looking for information about depression after adoption, the answers to the following questions may also be helpful.
A. Can you adopt if you have depression?
Having a mental health condition like depression does not automatically disqualify you from adopting. An adoption agency will conduct an assessment to determine if you are physically, mentally, and financially capable of parenting a child.
If you have depression or another mental health condition, it is important that you are able to verify that you are receiving treatment and that your condition does not prevent you from safely caring for a child.
Depression could prevent you from adopting if you are not receiving treatment and your symptoms make it difficult for you to complete daily tasks, such as working, paying bills, caring for yourself, and maintaining a household.
In fact, researchers estimate that 18 to 26% of adoptive parents experience symptoms of depression after adoption. If you’re feeling depressed after adoption, what you are experiencing is not out of the norm, and there is treatment and support available.
C. Can fathers experience depression after adoption?
Both mothers and fathers can experience adoption depression. Studies suggest that the rate of post adoption depression in fathers ranges from 11 to 24%.
Fathers can be just as impacted as mothers by the changes associated with having a new baby in the home. They may also struggle to adapt to the changes in the marriage after adoption.
If you experience depression symptoms after adoption, you are not alone, and there is no shame in reaching out for help. If your symptoms are persistent and begin to interfere with your ability to care for yourself or your baby, it is time to seek help.
Visiting your doctor for an evaluation of your symptoms can be an important first step in treating adoption depression. Your doctor may prescribe medication and/or refer you to a therapist for counseling.
With treatment, you can learn coping skills and overcome the psychological effects of adoption.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.