Defying Mental Illness

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let's take recovery everywhere

Violence, mental illness, suicide and addiction are problems throughout the population.

These issues lurk behind every failure rate in our society, and behind our most shocking tragedies.

Every month, over 3,000 Americans die by suicide. Heroin has become a leading cause of death in America. And we know how we are failing our military heroes.

Existing treatment systems do not reach everyone. They are designed to be expensive, with professional care that can reach just one person at a time, even when systems are working at their best.

Even worse, we have disabled every other medical system. Our major hospitals are on the sidelines of modern addiction and mental health care. Neighborhood clinics can't find an economic model that works. We have drugstore clinics, but they do not do mental health or addiction outreach. That is blind-spot thinking, half a step past shunning and exclusion.

Let’s make a different sort of commitment to addressing our most persistent problems. Let's give up shunning and exclusion. Instead, let’s activate everyone.

Let's put every tool of recovery everywhere, starting with nonclinical support for families and people who want to live healthy lives. Everyone can have a role to play.

All we need to get started are a few examples of people, leaders in civil society willing to step forward, willing to put aside their customary denials and defensive thinking, and willing to find opportunities to help each other.

There is a place in our society for nonclinical support and outreach work. Friends and family members are actually doing this now, in every neighborhood across America. We just need these efforts to go public. Churches, businesses, community groups, neighborhood clinics, veteran's organizations, schools, colleges, and fitness centers can get many more people started.

What if every group that uses volunteers spent an hour a year on mental health support training?

Everyone can learn to ask a few questions and help a friend.

Until Alcoholics Anonymous was invented in the early 1930s, the world had no solutions for addiction. Today there are 66,000 nonclinical addiction recovery groups meeting in church basements, libraries, and community centers across America. Volunteers help people start their recovery, and help people stay sober, no matter how much damage a person has sustained over the course of his addiction. AA made addiction approachable.

There's a way to do the same for mental health, and suicide prevention, and violence prevention. It's time to shatter the myths that disempower people, and turn worried bystanders into allies. We can help people talk through what they are facing, and support our friends, and help keep everyone safe.

Everyone can pitch in.

Let's get started.

Photo of Paul Komarek, training developmental disability and mental health workers.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Support your local innovator

Paul Komarek's project Mental Health Recovery Everywhere is a finalist in the Scattergood Foundation's 2014 Design Innovation Challenge. Please support this effort with your comments on the Scattergood foundation website and your Facebook Likes.
Mental Health Recovery Everywhere is an informal, nonclinical, social support network for people with mental illness or emotional distress. It serves the same function as AA for sober recovery, a social and nonclinical support experience with a book that supports deeper work, but it is strength-based, and not 12-step.
Show your support here.

Thank you for taking the time to review the challenge, and for supporting the work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Defying Mental Illness 2014 Edition now available

Defying Mental Illness 2014 edition is now available in print and in all ebook formats, with special ebook pricing. A complete 350-page mental health recovery reference, formatted for smartphones and tablets.

It is a substantial update. Finally, there is a way to talk about and work through mental health issues using nonclinical terms. Churches and communities can use the tools of Defying Mental Illness to support people with mental health issues, and help people make progress in their lives.

Human development and social learning have emerged as key themes in the 2014 edition of Defying Mental Illness. Also in this edition:

  • Additional emphasis on trauma and its effects
  • Revised chapters on suicide prevention, violence, and crisis response
  • The Safe Zone System, a method for balancing safety with a person's need to extend their range and build capacity.
  • New material on informed consent and person-centered strength-based care
  • New material relating to disability through the lifespan
  • New material on addiction, addiction treatment, and addiction recovery programs
  • Nonclinical resources for addressing destructive thought patterns, and for discovering a person's key strengths
  • Brief comments about the transition currently underway in the U.S. healthcare system

The Defying Mental Illness website at includes helpful videos, downloadable worksheets, and links to additional resources.

Learn more about the thinking behind Defying Mental Illness 2014.

Where to purchase

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

For the first time, mental health recovery books for Texas prisoners

We are pleased to announce a new relationship with Texas Prison Bookstore.

Our readers are aware of the criminalization of people with mental illness. Poverty, trauma, substance abuse, mental illness, and school failure work together to create the notorious "school to prison pipeline."

What can we do to help people rebuild their lives?

Stress and trauma reduce a person’s “executive functioning” – the type of cognitive capacity that lets us figure out what to do when the path is unclear – as well as “social connectedness” and capacity for emotional self-regulation. The challenge of recovery and re-entry involves restoring these capacities.

Defying Mental Illness delivers information about what people are facing, plus tools and strategies to help people make progress in their lives.

We want to make our books available to people in correctional facilities across the US. If you know of a book distributor that serves this population, please send an email to:

paul.komarek (at)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Defying Mental Illness authors are bloggers too

Over the course of the past year we have been blogging pretty steadily.

Our blog Redesigning Mental Illness is our shot at social innovation. What can change the experience of mental illness in America? We think ordinary people can rediscover their capacity to support mental and emotional health. We've also been writing about the connection between gun violence and mental health. Some of this writing has found its way into the 2013 edition of Defying Mental Illness.

Recently we've launched a new blog called Grassroots Educator. Here we focus on the educators in American society who never send out report cards. Think about child care workers, afterschool program workers, mentors, adult education workers, workforce development program instructors. What can we do to help kids and adults achieve success in life? Our first posts focused on justice systems in schools. We think the answer to bullying is not a set of rules or an assembly program -- it's a commitment to justice within schools and communities.

And then there is the so-called microblogging -- for updates on mental health, education and social justice issues follow @pkomarek on Twitter.