Screening parents of high-risk infants for emotional distress: rationale and recommendations

J Perinatol. 2013 Oct;33(10):748-53. doi: 10.1038/jp.2013.72. Epub 2013 Jun 27.


Having a baby hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a potentially traumatic event for parents. This article summarizes research documenting heightened symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress in these parents and reviews studies of the relationship of parental distress with impaired infant and child development. We describe an array of validated screening devices for depression and post-traumatic stress, along with research on risk factors for elevated scores. In making recommendations for screening both mothers and fathers for emotional distress in the NICU, we (a) present commentary on the pros and cons of screening, (b) propose a timetable for screening and (c) describe both supportive interventions for parents in the NICU and a variety of referral possibilities for parents most at risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology