On the Other Side of Darkness


On April 17, a Korean adoptee died from depression. This is a heartbreaking situation for her family, friends and daughter she left behind. It is also gut wrenching for the Korean adoptee community she was a part of. I did not know her personally but I know of the struggles, challenges and issues concerning depression and adoption for I am also a Korean adoptee.

Adoption is based on great loss. A child loses their mother, father, family, history and often times their culture. This creates a primal wound. A wound that can never really be fully healed in some adoptees. It is hard for people who are not adopted to “get it”. It is so incredibly hard to explain the sense of grief that adoptees feel. It is beyond words.

Because of this, it has been my saving grace to be surrounded online and in person to other Korean adoptees. They “get it”. There are no words that are needed. We just know that some of us need support because life can be overwhelming.

However, there is a statistic that very few people know about. It is alarming. It makes you wonder what in the heck is going on. Where are the fail safes? Where is the outcry? What can we do about it?

The statistic is that adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. This statistic comes from “Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Non-adopted Offspring” by Keys and Marlone et. al.

Ponder that statistic and understand as adoptees, we are at great risk of depression, anxiety and suicide attempts. The latest news of a Korean adoptee ending her life is a harsh reality. Depression is as serious, if not more serious, than a heart attack. It takes away our ability to think clearly and it tells us lies. It tells us that the only way to end our pain is to end our lives. It tells us that nobody loves us. It tells us we are not worthy of help.

I have stood at that cliff more times than I care to admit. Depression took me to the dark places and refused to let me go until I received extensive therapy and medication. There is no shame in getting help. In fact, it is the only thing that will help. As adoptees, we tend to fear asking for help because we know what helplessness is like more than most. We have this urgent need to please and not be a bother. It is how we learned to survive. But in order to combat depression, we need help and we can’t do it alone or we will die.

So as a mother, an adoptee and a therapist, I ask you out there to watch out for everyone who is depressed but especially adoptees. There is a disease out there that is four times more likely to kill adoptees. Learn what the warning signs are. Force people to get help. Be there for them.

And to those Korean adoptees who are on the edge, please know we hear you. We see you. We love you. We know the heartache. Take our hand and let us guide you away from that cliff and into a community who understand you. On the other side of darkness, there is hope and there are people who will surround you with the sense of belonging you so desire.

Lastly, to the beautiful Korean adoptees who have lost their struggle to depression, I am so sorry. I do not judge you nor condemn you. I just love and miss you. The world was better because you were in it.

Sarah Heil-Brenny

Sarah Heil-Brenny is a single divorced mom of three teenage boys who lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Pack leader of two dogs with a combined weight of 9 pounds. She is often found knitting in inappropriate places, watching way too much Netflix, posting too many pictures on Instagram, and munching on anything gummy. Sarah pretends she is an extrovert but she is a closeted introvert who adores spending an obscene amount of time by herself and a few awesome friends. She is an adolescent psychotherapist who has a private practice. Photojournalism was a passion that turned into a business but really it’s because she can fly her drone. She does this all the while going to school for her PhD in Social Work. Someday she hopes she can just sit, relax and not stress about her yarn stash. Until then, she lives her chaotic life. Welcome to it.

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