What is post-adoption depression?

Though it’s still not always talked about as openly as might be helpful, postpartum depression has spent the last few decades becoming more and more a part of the conversation about new parenthood. What’s less well-known, and more controversial, is post-adoption depression, or PAD, which is exactly what it sounds like – the depression that sometimes overcomes new parents in the days, weeks, and months after they bring their newly adopted children home. Like postpartum depression, PAD is a serious condition that can threaten the health and well-being of newly-formed families as a whole and, of course, the individual parents experiencing it. PAD, much like postpartum depression, is treatable through medication and talk-therapy, and it’s easiest to recover from if it’s caught early on.

Why does PAD happen?

There is no definitive answer to why PAD happens. Since new adoptive parents haven’t gone through the hormonal changes that new moms who have just given birth face, the answers are less clear-cut, but so much of the new parenting experience is the same no matter how a new child joined a family. New parents are – as a rule – sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and just getting to know a whole new person who, even if they’ve had children before, has their own distinct needs and quirks. In addition, many new parents go through an adjustment period as they realize the ways parenthood is different from how they imagined it or as they have trouble living up to their own expectations of themselves as parents.

On top of all of this – which on its own would be enough to put someone in a more fragile state of mind – new adoptive parents face a few challenges new biological parents don’t have to deal with. The first is just a question of support – new adoptive parents often don’t have the same expectation of the help they’ll need. New adoptive parents are less likely to take as much time off from work to adjust to the new family landscape and are less likely to have friends, family, and acquaintances offering to help with meals, cleaning, or childcare during this period of adjustment.

The second difference is that adoptive parents have just finished going through the process of adoption, which doesn’t involve as many hospital visits compared to giving birth, but does involve a whole lot more paperwork and bureaucracy. Adoptive parents may feel that in trying to prove their readiness to be parents and have their adoption approved, they’ve set up expectations for themselves as parents that they can’t possibly meet. They may feel at a loss for what to do next once the adoption has been finalized.

What are the signs of PAD?

Signs of PAD include persistent anger or sadness, a sense of emotional numbness, lasting fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, or imagining disaster around every corner. Like other types of depression, PAD presents itself in a range of ways, at a range of different intensities.

If I think I might have PAD, what should I do?

One of the most important things a new parent facing PAD can do is reach out and be sure to stay connected to their support network. Talking to friends, family, or a partner can help fight a sense of isolation and clarify an emotional response. It’s also a good idea to consult with a doctor – even parents who don’t feel medical attention is necessary can benefit from talking through symptoms with a medical professional.

The important thing to remember is that PAD, much like postpartum depression, is a natural reaction to an intense and life-changing set of events. It’s just one more step on a new family’s journey, but it won’t last forever.

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Parents.” Factsheets for Families, 2015. Retrieved October 30 2017. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/impact-parent/.
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Postadoption Depression.” Factsheets for Families, 2015. Retrieved October 30 2017. https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/adopt-parenting/depression/.
  • K.J. Foli. “Depression in Adoptive Parents.” Western Journal of Nursing Research. 32(3):379-400. April 2010. Retrieved October 30 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20040731.
  • Amy Patterson Neubert. “Expectations, exhaustion can lead mothers to post-adoption stress.” Purdue University. Purdue University, March 22 2012. Retrieved October 31 2017. http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2012/120322FoliResearch.html.
  • Jennifer L. Payne, et al. “Post adoption depression.” Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 13(2): 147-151. January 30 2010. Retrieved October 30 2017. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00737-009-0137-7#/page-1.
  • Yehuda Senecky, et al. “Post-adoption depression among adoptive mothers.” Journal of Affective Disorders. 115(1-2):62-8. May 2009. Retrieved October 30 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950870. 
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