Mental health is something that society has stigmatized and essentially pushed away, which has left a lot of folks with a sense of hopelessness. The most important fact about mental health is that anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and/or religion can suffer from a mental health illness. Some of the most popular or well-known diagnosis include depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, Schizophrenia, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (just to name a few). Individuals who have spent time in the foster care system have unfortunately been met with higher rates of mental health illnesses and additional barriers, which prevent successful transitions out of the system most of the time. According to a study released by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs, former foster children are almost twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as U.S. war veterans.
A majority of youth in foster care have been exposed to some sort of trauma, whether it includes neglect, physical assault, sexual assault, secondary trauma, and/or a combination of traumas. According to Sweeton (2017), approximately 50% of the population will experience a traumatic event as some point in their lives. Trauma impacts many parts of the brain, but the three primary parts include the pre-frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, and the amygdala (Sweeton, 2017). Each of these areas of the brain are in charge of specific functions and once the brain has experienced trauma, these areas of the brain are altered. Youth in foster care are already at a higher risk for participating in at risk behaviors, which include engaging in drug and alcohol related activities, involvement in the criminal justice system, and higher rates of unprotected sex and pregnancies. Imagine having an altered brain, which would create additional barriers to appropriate decision making.
Another important factor in mental health is that some mental illnesses can be passed down generational through genetics. Diagnosis such as Bi-polar disorder can be passed down from parents to their children, which cause additional issues often within families that are already dysfunctional. Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly two and a half times more likely to seriously consider suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006). Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
Youth in foster care and those who are in the process of transitioning out are at a high risk of having mental health issues. Remember that mental health does not only impact those in foster care, so please be considerate of individual’s experiences as well as behaviors that may stem from previous traumatic exposure. Please be an advocate not only for youth in foster care, but for mental health. Some resources have been attached to the bottom.
Thank you for fighting for change!