NICU Awareness Month
September is the month of many important things. It’s the start of school, the beginning of pumpkin spice everything, and for some it shines a light on a seldom spoken about topic: the mental effects on parents of children whose lives began in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Around half a million babies end up in the NICU each year, meaning a significant portion of our population knows someone who is or is directly affected by the unique challenges of being a NICU family.
NICU parents (yes that includes you dads!) are at an increased risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD for anywhere from a few months to several years. In addition, postpartum mood disorders don’t always present in the immediate days, weeks, or even months after a NICU baby is born and comes home. Only 15% of mom’s with Postpartum Mood Disorders are diagnosed and receive proper treatment. In a 2015 study out of Duke University, it was found that out of 113 new mothers with babies in the NICU, 42% had depressive symptoms and 30% presented with symptoms of PTSD.
NICU awareness month gives us a good opportunity to help better identify postpartum mood disorders and get someone (or yourself) the help that they need. If you or someone you love is a new parent of a NICU baby, be on the look out for:
feeling anxious, worried, or “keyed up”
feeling emotionally numb
thoughts of suicide or self-harm
hopelessness and helplessness
sad mood and excessive tearfulness
“rage”, anger outbursts, or short temper/irritability
hallucinations and/or paranoia
How can you get help?
If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or showing suicidal behaviors, call 911.
Speak to your OBGYN or PCP about how you are feeling.
Find a Therapist!
Reach out to your local county crisis line to gather local resources.
Find support online or in person. Postpartum Support International is a non-profit organization that can assist individuals with finding support groups and other resources.
NICU awareness month holds a special place in my heart, as my son is a NICU graduate himself.
He was lucky enough to not be one of the more critical cases and we were fortunate to have knowledge about the mental health resources available to us. However, this isn’t the reality for many parents and families. It is important that we recognize how postpartum mood disorders affect our communities and our children and we should be prepared to support our NICU parents by getting them the help that they need. But most importantly, we need to start the conversation and keep it going.
*** The content provided within this blog post is not a substitute for therapy. It is intended for educational and entertainment purposes. If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health emergency contact 911 or the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You may also visit the nearest Emergency Room.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders/(5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013
Innovation District. (2018, May 23). When depression lingers after the ICU. https://innovationdistrict.childrensnational.org/when-depression-lingers-after-the-nicu
MacMillan, A. (2018, March 16). The stress of having a baby. Seleni. https://www.seleni.org/advice-support/2018/3/16/the-stress-of-having-a-baby-in-the-nicu
Tahirkheli, N. N., Cherry, A. S., Tackett, A. P., McCaffree, M. A., & Gillaspy, S. R. (2014). Postpartum depression on the neonatal intensive care unit: current perspectives. /International journal of women’s health/, /6/, 975–987. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJWH.S54666