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 or is directly affected in 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 that out of 113 new mothers with babies in the NICU, 42% had depressive symptoms and 30% presented with symptoms of PTSD.
Only 15% of mom’s with Postpartum Mood Disorders are diagnosed and receive proper treatment. NICU awareness month gives us a good opportunity to help better identify postpartum mood disorders and gets someone the help that they need. If you or someone you love is a new parent with a child in the NICU, be on the look out for:
- vivid flashbacks
- intrusive thought
- feeling anxious, worried, or “keyed up”
- feeling emotionally numb
- thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- hopelessness and helplessness
- sad mood and excessive tearfullness
- “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.
It is important that we recognize that postpartum mood disorders affect our communities and our children. We should be prepared to support our NICU parents by getting them the help that they need. And most importantly, we need to start the conversation and keep it going.
It’s hard to believe at times, but you are not alone.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders/(5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013
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.