U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Indian Health Service: The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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IHS Head Start Program
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Providers - Mental Wellness

Mental wellness is the basis of a happy, productive life, which is why the Indian Health Service Head Start Program prioritizes mental health. It is important not only for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children in grant programs, but also for their families, communities and the staff members who serve them. There are many factors that contribute to each child's mental wellness, so a varied public health approach is helpful in addressing mental well-being.

Families and communities need support and information to raise mentally healthy AI/AN children, especially in the areas of parenting skills and family relationships, employment and education, social/emotional wellness, substance abuse prevention and intervention, healthy lifestyles and safety.

What does it mean for a child to be mentally and emotionally healthy? Although mental wellness is hard to define, mentally healthy young children tend to display the following traits:

  • They develop warm, trusting relationships with other children and adults.
  • They have positive self-esteem and feel that they can be effective.
  • They begin to express their needs and feelings.
  • They control their impulses, emotions and behavior in age-appropriate ways.
  • They start to show compassion toward others.
  • They acquire skills they'll need in school, such as concentration and planning ahead.

Check out these links to find out more about mental wellness:

A Word about FASD

Sadly, AI/AN communities experience some of the highest rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in the United States. In some areas, such as Alaska, the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is nearly four times higher in AI/ANs than within the general US population.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a term that describes the range of physical and mental disabilities that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. The disorders, which include FAS and other alcohol-related birth defects, can affect a child's appearance, physical health, mental health, learning, behavior, growth and development. There is no cure for any of these lifelong disorders. The good news is that these disorders can be entirely prevented if a mother avoids alcohol during her pregnancy.

Check out these resources and links to learn more about FASDs:

A Word about Methamphetamines

The scourge of methamphetamine addiction continues to ravage AI/AN communities and families. Every day, children are exposed to the horrors of life with parents and family members addicted to "meth." These children are at greater risk for neglect, physical and sexual abuse and emotional trauma. They're also in danger living in households where drugs and the harmful chemicals used to produce meth are present. Babies exposed to meth before birth and via their mother's breast milk often suffer severe, lifelong damage. Many of these young victims of methamphetamine must be placed in foster care.

Check out these links to find help and information about methamphetamine addiction:

What can you do to promote mental wellness for children in your center?

  • Educate parents on the importance of spending quality time with each child -- time that includes talking, listening and reading.
  • Support the strengths of each child and encourage positive self-statements.
  • Educate and support parents on the importance of maintaining their own mental health.
  • Model appropriate behavior and provide consistent behavioral controls and consequences for children in your center.
  • Encourage parents to attend regular parent/staff meetings to discuss each child.
  • Conduct screenings and observe the children in your center during play and other activities. Watch for signals of neglect, physical or emotional abuse and negative social interactions. Certain behaviors may indicate a need for further evaluation.

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