Mental Health of Adolescents Adopted in InfancyThe Mental Health of US Adolescents Adopted in Infancy” by Margaret A. Keyes, PhD; Anu Sharma, PhD; Irene J. Elkins, PhD; William G. Iacono, PhD; Matt McGue, PhD

Research has been fairly clear that adopted children with a history of prenatal substance exposure or pre-placement deprivation and those who were older when adopted are at heightened risk for all sorts of social, intellectual, and emotional problems.  McGue and his fellow researchers set out to determine if those adoptees with no evidence of early deprivation and placed for adoption before two years of age were at an increased risk for mental health problems.  They also compared international adoptees to domestic adoptees.

The study focused on 540 non-adopted adolescents randomly selected from Minnesota birth records and 514 international adoptees and 178 domestic adoptees from three large Minnesota adoption agencies.  The international adoptees were mostly female (60.3%) and mostly adopted from South Korea (89.7).  The domestic adoptees were 41.0% female and 78.7% white.   Consistent with Minnesota demographics, 95.6% of the non-adopted adolescents are white and 54.1% are female.

Researchers found that most adolescences adopted as infants are well-adjusted and psychologically healthy.  Nevertheless, a subset of adoptees may be at increased risk for externalizing problems and disorders, such as oppositional defiant (ODD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD).  The odds of being diagnosed as having ADHD and ODD were approximately twice as high in adoptees compared with non-adoptees.  There appeared to be no difference between adopted and non-adopted adolescence for internalizing problems (anxious, withdrawn, depression, and separation anxiety).  Domestic adoptees consistently fared worse than international adoptees, and all adopted adolescents were significantly more likely to have had contact with a mental health professional compared with non-adopted adolescents.