Masks, Masking, and Mental Health

by TRJ Parent Avril McInally

It’s now autumn. The leaves are changing color. The days are getting shorter. Some of us are getting ready to celebrate Halloween at the end of the month. Whether or not we participate in this holiday, we can all relate to masks for one reason or another. They’ve been used throughout the ages in religious ceremonies, as works of art, as occupational accoutrements and as protection from disease. A mask is a cover for the face or a disguise. It may be used to frighten, shock or simply amuse others. A mask hides what lies behind it.

The National Council for Adoption states, “The statistics are revealing. A third of adolescents referred for psychotherapy are adopted. Adolescence is the peak period for psychiatric referrals in the life of the adoptee. Approximately 5–17 percent of adolescent adoptees receive mental health services, although they represent only 2 percent of the population.1 While research suggests that these statistics may reflect the fact that for a variety of reasons, adoptive parents may be more inclined to seek out services for their teens, it is also true that many adopted teens need specialized support. Adolescence is a time when adoptees struggle with an extra layer of challenges related to their identity, their future, and their past. The “normal” or typical developmental tasks of the teen years are intensified by adoption, particularly if teens are being raised by parents of a different race or culture.”

As we think about the impact of loss, grief, and differences of culture and race it stands to reason that transracially adopted persons might wear masks more frequently than their non-adopted peers. October 10, 2023 is World Mental Health Day and we can dig deeper into the meanings behind masks and the practice or habit of masking for children with intersectional identities.  “Mental health masking means camouflaging or suppressing your mental health symptoms so you fit in with others.” “People mask their mental health symptoms because they want to maintain their relationships, keep their jobs, and be socially accepted.”  To put a finer point on this for our community, it’s been widely discussed that adopted persons often put on masks to shield their caregivers or because there is seems to be little validation or support when they do share feelings.  One of April’s prompts from her October suite of cards asks, “have you ever tried to hide or mask your feelings?” It’s a good question to ask. Consider also asking another of her prompts for the month “do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?”

Make time and space for having these conversations with your children. Use the props of masks and masking to help bring awareness to and support of your children’s mental health this October.

This post is from our October, 2023, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Whether you participate in Halloween or not, October 31st has many children and the young at heart dressing up in costumes and wearing masks. Today, the pandemic has given many of us cause to wear masks to protect ourselves from the COVID-19. But what is behind the masks you don’t see? What do they reveal? Read how masks and mental health can have unique significance in our community in our article "Masks, Masking, and Mental Health."

October Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp and available for purchase. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for October. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

October Pro-Tip for Parents: Think about the symbolism of masks and how you might mask your feelings about adoption and differences of race. What can you do to tap into those feelings and let them show in healthy ways? Do you recognize when your child might be masking their feelings? “We Wear the Mask” - Paul Laurence Dunbar

• Did you dress up for Halloween as a kid?
• What was your favorite costume?
• Did you wear a mask?

• Do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?

• Have you ever tried to hide/mask your feelings?

This post is from our October 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp!

Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”


In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month

Mental Illness Awareness Week and Masks of Perfection

author: Avril McInally

This year, Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) runs from October 2 to October 8. In April’s deck of cards for October, she asks, “Do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?” This question resounded and rested heavily on those of us attending a recent Transracial Journeys’ Board Meeting. You could have heard a pin drop after one of our board members solemnly spoke of an associate’s child who had just committed suicide.

To bring this closer to home, this child was a transracial adoptee. They were the kind of young adult who seemingly had every opportunity at their fingertips. A child whose parents beamed over their accomplishments and a child who never did anything but please those same parents exceedingly, as well as the society in which they circulated.

“Adoption is often forgotten when speaking about trauma, leading to a form of disenfranchised grief, which is grief that is not typically acknowledged or validated by society. Both the trauma and the unrecognized grief may contribute to significant mental health issues.”

What sort of mask was this child hiding behind? Were there any outlets or therapies for their grief?

When working with this month’s cards, pay close attention to the relationship card and what it asks. Then, ask yourselves if our children wear masks to please us? Consider having a dialog in which we encourage our children to drop their masks in order to share their anxieties, experiences and fears with us. They need to know that they don’t have to wear the masks of perfection or excellence to be safe with us.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has themed this year’s MIAW “What I Wish I Had Known”. You can visit their website for an itinerary of their accessible programs and perhaps, in participating in this program or having honest and safe talks with our kids about the masks we wear, we’ll not have to ask ourselves what we wish we had known.

This post is from our October, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.

Book Corner – Mental Health Month

For Children Ages 2-5

B is for Breathe:
The ABCs of Coping with Fussy and Frustrating Feelings
(Kids Healthy Coping Skills series)
By Dr. Melissa Munro Boyd

What can kids do to cope when they have big feelings? Some might find it helpful to create art. Others might want a hug, or to listen to music, or go for a nature walk. B is for Breathe contains all of these ideas and many more – one for each letter of the alphabet. Reading this book would be a wonderful way to start a conversation with a child about healthy ways to deal with their emotions.

Books for Young Transracial Adoptees

For Children in Grades 2-7

Stuntboy, in the Meantime
By Jason Reynolds
Illustrated by Raul the Third

Stuntboy, aka Portico, lives in a castle, aka an apartment building, with his mom, dad and grandma, but not for long, as his parents are separating. Stuntboy tries to use his superhero power to maneuver his way through the “frets,” which he gets whenever his parents argue. To cope, he often goes down the hall to his best friend Zola’s apartment, where he learns to breathe, meditate and watch their favorite TV show together. Written in the style of a graphic novel, Stuntboy is an entertaining title for all – and a meaningful and helpful book for kids who are struggling with anxiety.

This book is almost a graphic novel, but is cataloged as a novel.

book recommendations for transracial adoptive parents

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. With a Master of Library Science from Kent State University and over 35 years as a public librarian, Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.   The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.