There are few things more stigmatizing in our culture than the label of mental illness. It is an unfortunate reality that many people suffer every day with mental health issues feeling isolated with little to no resources. This is a harsh reality that NICU parents experience every day.
Are you assessing parental mental health in your NICU?
As a bedside nurse, I often thought of the emotional and mental well being of the parents in our NICU. I did my best to support them through the crisis and shock of seeing their baby hooked to countless wires, cables and equipment. I really didn’t understand, however, the full extent of the mental health issues that our families face until I attended the 2019 ONE Conference, where Angelica Moreyra, Psy.D, presented on supporting family mental health in the NICU. It was jarring to hear some of the statistics that she presented. I couldn’t help but think, are we failing our NICU parents?
We all think of mothers experiencing postpartum depression (PPD), and labor and delivery units, as well as OBGYN offices routinely screen for PPD. But, as Dr. Moreyra pointed out, many of our parents, both mothers and fathers, display at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and will experience these symptoms long after leaving our unit leading to long-term struggles with mental health and disordered parenting. What’s worse is that there are little to no screening programs for medical PTSD for NICU parents while their baby remains in the NICU, and virtually nonexistent screening for parents after their baby goes home.
Did you know that there are screening tools that can be used to assess PPD and PTSD in parents?
The good news is that there is hope. Dr. Moreyra presented on how she incorporated a screening tool and implemented a support group and referral program to support the mental health of parents in the NICU.
What if we don’t have a clinical psychologist?
Even if your unit does not have access to a clinical psychologist, your social work department will be able to facilitate screening tools and referrals.
If you’d like to hear Dr. Moreyra’s full presentation, and the novel program she implemented in one NICU to help screen and treat PTSD in NICU parents, check out our ONE Conference Recording where you can get access to this lecture as well as 18 other hot NICU topics for everyONE in every NICU!
written by Sarah Bakke