Nearly a quarter (23%) were diagnosed with anxiety, 16% with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 14% with postnatal depression after spending time on the NICU, according to the survey of 589 mums and dads with experience of neonatal care, by baby charity Bliss.
Katie and Jonathan Jones’s son Ray was born at 27 weeks gestation in 2017. Fears over reduced movement meant that Ray had to be delivered by emergency C-section.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over what happened on the neonatal unit. We have seen things that no parent should go through and as much as they try and shield you from what’s happening on the ward around you, it’s not always possible. I now have anxiety. I am emotionally scarred and so is my husband. I look at Ray and think how incredibly lucky we are, but I can never get over what we went through. Our world turned upside down from the moment Ray was delivered. During his three month stay in hospital we felt emotionally and physically drained. I’d wake up hallucinating and would hear the sound of alarms in the shower.
The survey also revealed the lack of support for new parents, with 62% of respondents reporting they had no access to formal psychological support (such as counselling or talking therapies) when they needed it whilst their baby was on the neonatal unit – something Katie can relate to. Bliss’s survey found that 45% of parents said they had no access to formal psychological support when they needed it since leaving the neonatal unit.
One in eight babies are born needing neonatal care in the UK every year. All parents on neonatal units should have access to psychological and social support, including a trained counsellor, according to national standards set by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine.
However, Bliss’ past research shows that no nation in the UK is reaching these standards. In England, 41% of neonatal units said that parents had no access to a trained mental health worker and 30% said parents had no psychological support at all. In Wales, 45% of neonatal units are not able to offer parents access to psychological support of any kind. In Scotland the picture is bit better: 12 out of 13 units have access to a trained mental health professional of some kind, but access to these professionals is often inadequate to meet demand. And in Northern Ireland, five out of seven neonatal units do not have dedicated access to a mental health professional.
Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss said: “The shocking findings of our latest research demonstrate the vital need for better mental health support for parents whilst their baby is on the neonatal unit and beyond.
“Bliss calls for every UK Government to ensure that mental health support is available to each parent who has a baby in neonatal care.
“We are currently producing new information for parents about mental health that will be available later this year. In the meantime, we continue to recruit and train volunteers who provide direct support to parents with babies in neonatal units across the country.”