Anxiety and Depression



Catalina Suarez, Pauline Adair, Nicola Doherty and David McCormack 

Several studies have focused on the psychological effects that having an infant born prematurely or sick and spending time in the NICU has on parents.  

Results examining parental stress show that stress levels are higher in parents whose infants had lower gestational ages and birth weights compared with parents of full-term infants and that mothers present with higher stress levels than fathers. Research has also reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and acute stress disorder in this population. 

Fewer studies have focused on parents’ subjective experiences following discharge from hospital and how the transition impacts on their parent–infant relationship and identity. One researcher found that mothers of infants born prematurely who at baseline reported higher levels of psychological difficulties, were at most risk of ongoing difficulties 1-year post discharge. 


Parenting a primary school-aged child who was born premature or sick may evoke a range of complex emotions, including ongoing worry, fear of complications, and uncertainty about the future. The stress of medical interventions, developmental delays, and educational challenges may contribute to heightened levels of anxiety and depression in parents. 

Managing Anxiety 

Feeling worried is a normal part of life and a common response to stressful situation, but sometimes people can experience more intense worry or worries that will not go away. If you are experiencing anxiety, its important to understand it and to get support.  

Parents may experience persistent anxiety related to their child's health, academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being. Over-thinking, excessive worry, and difficulty managing uncertainty are common manifestations of anxiety. Developing coping strategies, such as mindfulness techniques, relaxation exercises, and seeking social support, can help parents manage anxiety symptoms and regain a sense of control. 

A healthy lifestyle can also help you manage your anxiety. 

  • Make sure you exercise regularly. Even a 10-minute short walk can help to improve how you feel. If you have not exercised in a long time, check with your doctor about what is safe for you. 
  • Cut down on caffeine, which can increase anxiety and alter sleep patterns in some people. Avoid tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks and chocolate, especially after 6pm. 
  • Limit how much alcohol, cigarettes and drugs you use. You can call the Quitline on: 13 7848 or call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on: 1800 250 015 for confidential advice. 
  • Make healthy eating choices. 
  • Get enough sleep. 

You might also like to try online e-therapies, many of which are free, anonymous, are easy to access and can be done from home from anywhere in Australia. Usually, you don’t need a referral from a GP. 

Find a range of online programs at the Australian Government's Head to Health website. 

If your anxiety or worry feels like it is happening all the time, is overwhelming or is seriously impacting your life, it is important to speak to your GP to get professional advice and support. In an emergency call 000.

Coping with Sadness and depression 

Depression may surface as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, and exhaustion that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. It is important to realise that feeling down at times is a normal part of life. Sad and upsetting events happen to everyone.  But if you are feeling down or hopeless on a regular basis you could be dealing with depression. It is important to get professional advice and support. 

The demands of caregiving, coupled with the ongoing stress of balancing work, family, and personal responsibilities, can make depressive symptoms worse. 

Mothers of premature babies are five times more likely to suffer depression than those who receive psychological help, even up to eight years after their children are born. 

 Symptoms of depression may include the following:  

  • Loss of interest and enthusiasm for things  
  • Constant feelings of sadness  
  • Withdrawing from friends and family  
  • Feelings of worthlessness  
  • Fatigue  
  • Loss or change of appetite.  
  • Sleep problems.  
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or body aches  

Depression is a serious health issue and should be managed by a qualified health practitioner. Your GP can assess your mood and your overall health, and will suggest treatment approaches based on several factors, including what type of depression you have, how severe your symptoms are, and whether you are experiencing a first or recurrent episode. 

There are 3 main approaches to treating depression: 

  • lifestyle changes — including reducing substance use, improving sleep, exercise) 
  • psychological treatments — including ‘talking therapies’ such as CBT, mindfulness and online therapies. 
  • medical therapies — including medicines and ECT 

Often these treatments are used in combination.  

If you are concerned about your symptoms or are finding it hard to manage you should speak to your GP. In an emergency you should call 000. 

More information about the treatments available for depression can be found here: 

Beyond Blue phone support service provides mental health support and is available 24/7. 


Recognising the signs of anxiety and depression and seeking professional support are critical steps in managing mental health concerns. Parents can benefit from therapy, counselling, or support groups tailored to their unique needs and experiences.  

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers can provide evidence-based interventions and holistic support to address underlying issues and promote healing. 

Amidst the demands of caregiving, parents must prioritise self-care to maintain their own well-being. Setting boundaries, practicing self-compassion, and carving out time for rest and relaxation are essential for replenishing emotional reserves. Engaging in hobbies, exercise, and meaningful social connections can nurture resilience and enhance coping mechanisms. 

Useful Links  

Beyond Blue 

Health Direct, Australia 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].