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White House official wants new avenues to help treat mental illness

(AP Photo)
LISTEN: Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary

PHOENIX — A week after a fatal school shooting in Florida rocked the country, a White House Cabinet official said mental illness had to be handled in a different way so those suffering from it will get help.

“We need to deal with serious mental illness with great sensitivity and care for individuals who suffer from it,” newly appointed Heath and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday on KTAR 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

Azar attended President Donald Trump’s “listening session” Thursday in Parkland, Florida, where 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student with an automatic weapon.

Suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, has a history of metal instability.

“One of the important things we talked about was how can we educate teachers and family members and first responders around mental health?” the 50-year-old appointee said.

Azar has been on the job since late January but he had been in the department as deputy secretary from 2005 to 2007 under President George W. Bush.

In between, he was president of an international pharmaceutical company’s American branch for five years. He is a lawyer by training.

“The president is looking to (his office) to help,” Azar said.

“How can we identify and screen those who have serious mental illness, how can we treat those, both preventative care but also more assertive interventional care … who are a threat to themselves and others?

“We all have friends, family members who suffer from serious mental illness.”

Azar said figuring out how mental health professionals can help overcome a “lack of connectedness to to community or others” that people with mental illness often struggle with was a key.

He also cited “research we can do on next-generation therapies.”