Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago

Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago, better known as MHAGC, is a 501(c)3 independent not-for-profit, volunteer organization. And we are dedicated to helping people live healthier lives with effective mental health education.

Since 1957, we have worked to break the stigma associated with mental illnesses and empower our communities to seek the necessary support to prevent and overcome mental disorders.

We have made this our mission for over six decades and we’ve achieved this by bringing mental health education to schools, homes, and the communities.

Researchers have collected data to gauge the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, and substance abuse or dependency. Findings show almost 50% of our youth have experienced some traumatic event in their adolescent years. Approximately 40% have witnessed violence in person. As a result, adolescents need support and help that they are not getting. Those who do not have healthy outlets, someone to talk to, religious affiliations, strong constitutions, or school based programs often lash out in frustration, end up making poor choices, and can be harmful to themselves or others.


The MHAGC ATP 1st Response service as an initial first step for individuals to find someone to talk to when they don’t know what to do, want to do it privately and discretely, and to work out a plan in getting help for themselves, their child, their teen, their student or someone they wish to help.

Mental Health Costs

  • Mental illnesses account for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.
  • Mental illness is associated with increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer.
  • One-half of all chronic mental illnesses appear by the age of 14
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. in ages 15-44.
  • Absences from work account for over $31billion.
  •  Rates for both intentional (e.g. homicide, suicide) and unintentional (e.g. motor vehicle) injuries are 2 to 6 times higher among people with a mental illness.
  • People with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, or major depression are at least 50% more likely to  beoverweight or obese.

ATP 1st Response Program Objectives

  • To offer individuals the benefit of talking to someone when immediate answers are desired. In many cases, it may be a teen, a parent, a teacher or an individual who is in great distress over an issue for themselves or someone they know. They may be seeking to speak to someone who is a mental health professional and keep anonymity at the same time.
  • To assist individuals who call to identify the nature and seriousness of their concerns.
  • To provide information and support to individuals who call to help them clarify their thinking.
  • To provide a compassionate and safe environment for students, parents, teachers and others when asking for help.
  • To provide support when needed the most – before someone makes dire decisions.
  • To help the individual feel more confident in reaching out and receiving help from a medical/psychological/psychiatry professional after the call.
  • To allow the individual the time they need to decide to seek professional help or to have someone to talk to before they do.
  • To help them examine options available, including referral to mental health service providers that meets their needs.
  • To discuss actions to consider.
  •  To agree to one or more actions the individual will take after the call.
    This service is to give support, advice and most importantly, listen to someone who desperately needs to talk to someone and does not know where to turn. The mental health professionals who virtually meet with the individuals are are trained individuals who deal with the silence and possibly the trauma that comes often with these types of sessions. They may organize face to face appointments with individuals for mental health services offering further support and/or therapy.



In the L2L™ mental health classes we have been providing, we have found that students who are willing to speak out in defense of those who suffer surprise their peers, and start to help change attitudes. With an average of 25% of all students who take the anonymous CES-D depression-screening test registering positive, we know there are many teens suffering. We believe that many will call to help others as much as to help themselves. By offering an anonymous service such as ATP 1st Response, helping individuals open up and letting them know that they are not alone and can get help, for themselves or others, we are endeavoring to end self-medication and suicide attempts.


MHAGC has been providing referral to mental health services since 2000. Individuals have been calling us to find help and we take their information, based on their need we have been matching them with three options to receive services, as they have needed them. It has been harder to find the services, especially when someone just wants to talk to someone as a first step and then decide what they should do. Many teachers have stated that they are dealing with issues and would like someone they could call to ask for direction. They hesitate to contact a professional because they believe they may be creating a bigger problem than they one they are trying to solve. The stigma deters them from sharing the information about the students or their family and they feel they do not have the tools to manage many situations.

[A person sitting on a beach near a body of water Description automatically generated]The MHAGC ATP 1st Response service is for:


  •  Individuals who simply do not know how to deal with an emotional/behavioral situation and need to speak to someone to understand what is happening.
  •  Adults concerned about a child or young person who may need help.
  • Parents and caregivers who are concerned about a child or young person.
  • Students who do not know where to turn.
  • Education professionals calling for advice (including teachers, social workers, guidance counsellors, etc.).
  • Individuals in work environments who want to discretely get help.


The Plan

  • MHAGC will expand their support services from providing referrals to providing an initial contact with a mental health professional as the first step to getting the help needed.
  • MHAGC will inform the individuals who call that the ATP 1st Response call is fully confidential. No name or any other contact information will be requested or stored, but if they provide information that indicates someone may hurt themselves or others, we will pass this on to the appropriate agencies. We will also pass on details of any criminal offence that has been committed if that information is shared.
  • Individuals will have up to one virtual therapy session with a professional for this initial communication. They will then be referred to someone or service that can help should further assistance be needed or requested.
  • Session notes will be taken and stored under a general user name the individual creates, although individual contact information, other than what the individual does share, will not be stored. No information will be shared with anyone. If the individual has been referred to another service MHAGC will provide them with the contact information for them to take the next step.

The objective is to help individuals deal with mental health issues as they arise, getting help comfortably, developing a plan of action for next steps and managing an issue before it becomes a major one. This will help to prevent mental health issues from accelerating, as they often due without professional help, as well as hoping to reduce comorbid disorders.

Each year we partner with thousands of young people, teachers, parents and employers to make
mental health a priority through awareness and empowerment.

Our tested, research-based education programs and resources serve to equip you with the right knowledge, skills, and tools to tackle mental health issues for effective identification, prevention, and support.



Dr. Robert Uri Heller

In your journey of self discovery, I will help you maximize your strengths, get support around your goals and desires, and create a healthy vision for yourself. 

Dr. Shantelle Whitehead

My approach is warm, accepting, interactive, and collaborative, and I work to tailor treatment to meet a client’s individual needs through the use of a variety of treatment modalities.

Sandhya Talatam

Acknowledging that you need therapy is a HUGE step in the right direction. I take the trust you put in me very seriously. I strive to provide a genuine and encouraging environment to foster a positive change in you.