The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Leeds Supports Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week

15 April 2019

This week, Leeds Children’s Hospital is supporting the first ever National Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week with a number of events planned across both of the city’s hospital sites.

Created by Leo’s, a charity dedicated to supporting families and staff through the neonatal journey and beyond, Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week will run from today with a selection of events planned nationally to raise awareness of the inaugural campaign.

Already a leading example of raising awareness of the importance of looking after your mental health, Leeds Children’s Hospital Neonatal teams have launched a number of initiatives to support families and staff on both units.

In March last year the team launched Super Sibs - a new and unique programme designed to help mums and dads care for older children when visiting the unit. The dedicated creche gives parents who are visiting their newborn on the unit the opportunity to bring older siblings knowing that they will be looked after by experienced volunteers providing supervised play, so that they can dedicate time to their newborn.

The Neonatal Unit at the St James’ Hospital site was the first to introduce Family Integrated Care in 2015, an innovative model of care that aims to educate, coach and mentor educating, coaching and mentoring parents to become the central care-giver for their sick or pre-term infant. Research has shown that the mental trauma parents suffer as a result of having baby in a neonatal unit is significantly reduced when they have been part of a family integrated approach to care. The model was also introduced to the Neonatal Unit at the Leeds Children’s Hospital site in 2017.

At Leeds Children’s Hospital the team includes Neonatal Counsellor Sandie Allison who works with families to offer a vital service, providing advice and support during what can be a difficult time. She said: “The neonatal unit is a high stress environment. To be able to speak about how you are coping with the stressors with a specially trained counsellor can help you manage your experience on the neonatal unit. Counselling is a taking therapy that offers you the opportunity to explore and express your emotions in a safe and confidential space here on the neonatal unit.

“Part of my role involves helping those in need to develop new ways of coping and adjust to the environment, gain insight and understanding of thoughts, feelings and behaviours and thus manage situations more effectively.”

Last year, the Neonatal team introduced Beads of Courage to the units, a global initiative that sees children and babies catalogue their hospital journey through every treatment stage with beads that together form a physical representation of their journey – something parents and families can also use to help them look back and appreciate how far they have come.

Fiona Metcalfe, Lead Nurse for Neonatal Surgery added: “It’s really important that we raise awareness of mental health on our neonatal units both for families and for staff. Recent studies suggest that families with children on the unit can often experience mental health worries and often they don’t know where to turn or who to turn to.

“In Leeds we have been working to provide support for our families with a number of initiatives that we can only hope to continue to improve which is why we’re supporting Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week. We have a number of events planned that will hopefully encourage more people to start the conversation and get the support that they need.”

A vital support to parents is the peer support group – a group of parents who have been through the neonatal experience with their own children and are there to offer help and support. Amy Campbell gave birth to twins Charlotte and Esme prematurely in 2017 but unfortunately Esme lost her fight for life 7 weeks later. Amy now volunteers on the Neonatal Unit. She said: “Everything on the unit is far from normal. I spent every day forcing myself to believe that everything was going to be ok. I daren’t think one day ahead, sometimes, even an hour ahead, in case my worst nightmares came to light. This really affected my mental health and I was eventually diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder after my son Archie was born last year.

“You have to do the most unnatural of things, like leaving your baby every day and night with a stranger. For me it’s important to share my experience in the hope that it helps other people get through what can be a really difficult time, not only for parents but for families and friends as well.”

There will be events taking place throughout this week to further improve awareness and understanding of mental health including a charity showcase where charities from across the UK will be available to offer advice and support. There will also be increased presence of the wellbeing team on the Neonatal Units as well as more informal coffee and cake events where parents can talk through any issues they may have or where they feel they may need support. There will also be a dedicated ‘pizza night’ for dads on the unit, offering them a chance to get together and take some time away from the unit to talk about how having a child on the unit is affecting them and any worries or fears they have.