Arizona program aims to help community spot mental health problems

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- As shooting tragedies across the nation and here in the Valley have reignited the debate over gun control, focus has also turned to mental health.

“About one-fourth of people suffer from symptoms of a mental health disorder at any given time,” said David Kains, a learning specialist at Magellan Health Services of Arizona.

“There’s a lot of stigma about mental disorder in our community,” Kains said. However, he and others at Magellan are trying to change that through a special course called Mental Health First Aid. 

The program, which launched following the shooting tragedy in Tucson, aims to train people in the community about signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis, as well as how to help someone suffering.

“The underlying theme of Mental Health First Aid is to be compassionate and genuine,” Kains said.

So far, more than 700 community members have completed the 12-hour course, which is free and open to anyone.

“I think it’s one of the best things you can offer to the community,” said Tom Kelly, the manager of Recovery and Resiliency for Magellan Health Services. Kelly said he also has bi-polar disorder.

“Time and time again it’s like somebody gets a diagnosis and they believe their life is over,” Kelly said. He said he wishes he could have benefited from this type of service sooner.

“I spent three years of my life on the streets, three years locked up," Kelly said. "I didn’t have the information then."

Shawn Thiele, deputy CEO of Magellan Health Services of Arizona, said while tragedies like Tucson and Newtown, Conn., are rare, prevention needs to replace reaction.

“If we identify early when individuals are in their childhood, their youth, before they become adults, and if we do that in a way that’s supportive as opposed to accusatory or demeaning or giving them a label, that will help us build a stronger community, stronger adults, and minimize some of the violence we’ve been seeing,” Thiele said.
Thiele said she’s working to launch two additional versions of Mental Health First Aid, one for youth, and another for law enforcement and first responders.

The next course, which is open to the public, is scheduled for March. For more information, visit