Adult Mental Illness

Disorders of childhood generated by delays and multiple moves are mild compared to what is yet to come. The breaking of bonded relationships causes even more serious problems in adulthood. The mental disorder may surface immediately or remain suppressed for years. Pay me now or pay me later. Foster care drift may eventually create a person who lacks the ability to attach to others. While there are many contributing and confounding antecedents of adult disorders, nevertheless, adult mental illness, crime, poverty and homelessness have all been positively correlated with time spent in foster care. Problems submerged in childhood behind a veneer of compliance are apt to surface in adult life.

Childhood experiences have lifelong consequences. Foster care, even when necessary and optimal, carries with it uncertainty and the impact of rejection. Feelings of insecurity and low self-worth are a natural consequence.. The person who carries this condition into adulthood is much more vulnerable to mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

What is mental illness? In simple terms, mental illness is a disorder of thought or behavior which significantly interferes with functioning in a major life area such as home, work or leisure time. Both the research and common sense tell us that interrupted relationships lead to withdrawal and a fear of investing in new relationships. Withdrawal and the failure to relate are at the basis of many mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, and thought disorders like paranoia and schizophrenia. Even among “normal” adults, failure to form healthy emotional attachments makes stable and joyful adult family life difficult if not impossible.

“Those who suffer from psychiatric disturbances, whether psychoneurotic, sociopathic, or psychotic, always show impairment of the capacity for affectional bonding, an impairment that is often both severe and long lasting…Antecedent conditions of significantly high incidence [of mental disorders] are either an absence of opportunity to make affectional bonds or else long and perhaps repeated disruptions of bonds once made.” (Bowlby, 1979) The author goes on to cite a number of other studies that show a strong correlation between disrupted bonding and a significant increase in antisocial behavior, illegitimacy, and suicide.

Many researchers have written of the correlation between attachment problems among children who graduate from foster care and adult mental illness. The loss of a bonded relationship is an antecedent of multiple mental disorders. When attachments are damaged or broken, the research confirms an increase in Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorders, and Antisocial Personality. (Triseliotis, 1993), (Aldgate, 1994), (Dozier et al, 1999)

Emancipation to independent adult living without a permanent home is the final insult. These children begin their journey by being removed from a neglectful or abusive home. They are then too often shifted from one temporary home to another and left to drift too long in foster care. Emancipating foster children to adult status without a permanent home is the final blow in a cruel and thoughtless process. According to the Casey Young Adult Survey from 2005, emancipated foster children were 2.8 times more likely to have psychotic problems, 2.5 times more likely to suffer from paranoia, 2.4 times more likely to have obsessive and/or compulsive symptoms, and 2.1 times more likely to be clinically depressed than the general U.S. population. Another study found that former foster youth were twice as likely as U.S. military veterans to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. (

The psychological trauma incurred through child abuse and in foster care can have serious consequences that begin in childhood and last throughout life. Foster children and emancipated foster care alumni are more than twice as likely as other children to become mentally ill.