Health Manager Orientation Guide


A health care worker consoling a depressed woman.Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression is important for staff and families. A Head Start program can be a vital source of education and referrals to help families and staff get the support they need. Rates of depression are high for parents in Early Head Start programs. The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project found that more than half (52%) of mothers reported enough depressive symptoms to be considered depressed. In the study, one third of mothers of 1-year-olds and one third of mothers of 3-year-olds were depressed. Rates of depression for Early Head Start fathers were also notable. Eighteen percent of Early Head Start fathers reported enough symptoms to be considered depressed when children were 2 years old; 16% met those criteria when their children were 3 years old.

Partnerships with a mental health consultant can help address parental and staff depression. A consultant can train staff to recognize signs of depression, screen as appropriate, and offer internal or community referrals. Five Action Steps to Address Maternal Depression in Head Start Programs offers more specific guidance on how programs can reduce the impact of depression in the families they serve.

Another way a mental health consultant can support staff is by offering clinical and reflective supervision. They can support staff’s capacity to help families by building relationships, and they can offer staff simple tools to start helping families who may be waiting for more support. They can work with staff to connect families to community resources and help reduce the stigma by promoting awareness of depression, so staff see it as a common, treatable condition.

When working with expectant families, encountering loss is also a possibility. Expectant families who identify as Black and Indigenous have higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. The social determinants of health, including structural and systemic racism and other oppression, are linked to experiencing these types of loss. Understanding this context is helpful, as the social determinants are also related to lack of access to needed or preferred sources of support for families and staff who have experienced a loss. For more guidance, refer to Services to Pregnant Women and Expectant Families After a Loss. 

Tips and Strategies for Addressing Depression

  • Collaborate with your IECMH consultant to recognize signs of depression and promote strategies to manage stress.
  • Set up systems to support screening for perinatal depression and connect with community providers if your program works with expectant families.