NEONATAL mental health awareness week runs from April 15 to 21, inspiring charities and neonatal wards to apply better practice around the mental health of parents and staff.
Leo’s, which supports families around the region through premature and traumatic births, the neonatal journey and beyond, has been the driving force in creating the week.
The week will highlight the long-lasting impacts on the mental health of parents, siblings and grandparents when they have been on a neonatal journey.
It will also consider the impact on midwives, neonatal nurses and doctors and allied health professionals such as neonatal occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists who work in neonatal care. There will be a range of activities for parents, staff, charities and organisations to take part in, including fundraising for their chosen neonatal ward or charity, practicing mindfulness and random acts of kindness.
Leo’s recently launched a nationwide survey to discover just how much of an impact having a sick or premature baby has on families after they leave a neonatal unit, and how health care professionals cope with working in such an emotionally and demanding environment.
Leo’s founder Lottie King said: “Mental health is such a huge topic right now, and often the experiences which both parents and staff face on a neonatal unit can be very traumatic.
“From baby loss to emergency procedures, unexpected decline in baby’s health or a resuscitation of a baby – these have a huge impact on all of those involved.
“Thanks to recent findings from Bliss and The Smallest Things Charity, we know that whilst on the neonatal unit many families experience mental health issues.
“However, what we want to know now is how this impacts once they go home. For example, are parents needing to take medication, are they needing to take time off work at different points of the year because of triggers, or are families struggling because of the strain something like this can put on relationships?
“By understanding this, we hope to inspire the changes needed so that when parents do go home, they can be supported, and their mental health is in a positive place.”
Leading London based neonatal psychologist Rebecca Chilvers is working with the charity to help them campaign for change and validate the results.
Claire Campbell, Senior Neonatal Sister and Leo’s Trustee said: “As medicine advances, babies are surviving being born even earlier, some at 22 weeks gestation, and babies with complex needs are now able to go home with care-packages.
“The care I witnessed at the start of my career over 30 years ago is very different to the care babies receive now and that has a larger impact on parents and staff.
“Being a neonatal nurse means we don’t just care for the baby, but we care for the family too. We are a big part of their journey, and they become a big part of ours.
“We become so close to the families we care for that if the worst should happen and that baby doesn’t make it home, we grieve too. Every family we care for leaves an imprint on us and we too get affected by the journey baby can go through.
“We may go home and think for the rest of our evening about the baby we cared for that day. If we are off for a few days, many of us will ring in to check on how baby is doing, especially if they have been critically unwell.
“It’s becoming increasingly important to recognise the effect this can have on staff, and whilst this won’t alter their ability to care for a baby and its family, we need to care for the staff too.
“Our survey has had an excellent response from the medical community with midwives, neonatal nurses and doctors and allied health professionals all opening up about the impact their job can have on them.”
The week will seek to engage charitable organisations from across the UK, NHS Trusts, neonatal, maternity and perinatal networks and parents. The findings from the survey will direct the campaigns for change.
It also supports the maternity department at The University Hospital of North Tees and works closely with the Northern Neonatal Network.
To find out more about the week head to leosneonatal.org/neonatal-mental-health-awareness-week/
For more information on Leo’s visit leosneonatal.org