Psychological impact of neonatal intensive care unit admissions on parents: A regional perspective

Corrine Dickinson, Venkat Vangaveti, Allyson Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This study aimed to report the prevalence of adverse psychological symptoms and health behaviours of parents who had a baby admitted to a regional neonatal intensive care unit to spotlight mental health care in these unique settings. Design: This was a prospective, prevalence-based study using quantitative data. Setting: The study was conducted at the Townsville University Hospital, Queensland. Participants: Participants comprised 114 parents of 79 infants enrolled in the study (mothers = 69 and fathers = 45). Main outcome measures: Trauma, depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol and drug use, prior mental health history and bonding experience were assessed by standardised self-report questionnaires and a structured diagnostic interview within 2 weeks and at 3 months post-admission to neonatal intensive care unit. Results: Clinically significant acute trauma symptoms (16% of mothers only), depression (22% mothers; 4% of fathers), anxiety (27% mothers; 11% fathers) and stress (24% mothers; 13% fathers) were reported within the first 2 weeks after their baby was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. Notably, 18% of parents reported engaging in harmful alcohol use behaviour within 2 weeks post-birth; 29% of fathers continued to report risky drinking at 3 months. At 3 months, 21%, 8% and 6% of mothers met diagnostic criteria for generalised anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, respectively. Conclusion: Screening for psychological distress and alcohol use of parents of neonatal intensive care unit babies can ensure that support services are made available post-discharge to optimise family function and development of the preterm infant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-384
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian Journal of Rural Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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