Tips for supporting others with their mental health

Supporting someone who has a premature or sick baby can be difficult. You might not always know what to do or say at what can be a very emotional and stressful time.

Find out some top tips for what to do if you’re worried about someone else’s mental health on the neonatal unit.

Ways to talk to them

Parents of a premature or sick baby might be struggling to find the words to talk about what is happening for them. Starting the conversation with them might be the first step to them getting more support with their mental health in the neonatal unit.

It might feel hard to know how to start the conversation. You could try something like, ‘Things seem really challenging. I wondered if you wanted to talk about how you’re feeling?’

Parents can also find it really reassuring to know that they are allowed to feel the way they are feeling. Often, parents don’t feel able to be honest about their experiences because they think they should feel lucky, or happy, or relieved. Letting them know that they can feel a mixture of sometimes conflicting feelings can help them open up.

Remember that they have also just had a baby – many parents would like to be congratulated on this, as you would if their baby had gone home straight away.

Listen to our podcast - NICU,SCBU and you

Hear the experiences of parents talking openly about their mental health on the unit, how they faced challenges, and how you can get more support from health professionals.

You can also read the transcription of this episode.

How to listen to them

However they respond and whatever they tell you, listen to what they say.

People don’t always need a solution, and sometimes it might not be possible for them to find one. However having someone to listen and to work through how they are feeling can be exactly what someone needs.

Try to avoid focusing on what you would do – everyone is different and it’s important that they feel supported to find what’s right for them.

I ignored how I was feeling, mentally. I felt I had to be a strong Dad and Husband. I waited too long to get help - I was struggling. My one message - don’t be too strong for too long

Dad

Find out what support they have

Ask them who they’re able to talk to, or where they’re able to find more support. If they don’t feel supported, help them to think about where they could find something which works for them.

You might want to show them our page on getting more support for some ideas of what could help them. Be aware that getting help might feel very scary for them. Listen to their fears, and work with them to find what might be the best first step.

Be kind to yourself and accept that it's OK to feel the way you do even if it's years on. I still get feelings of guilt that he was born early, even though I know it wasn't my fault.

Claire, mum

If you think someone needs urgent help with their mental health

If someone close to you in neonatal care tells you than they are considering self-harm or suicide, encourage them to get help right away. Contact your local A&E department, emergency GP service, or call The Samaritans on 116 123.

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The information in this section is due for review November 2021