Defying Mental Illness

Thursday, September 25, 2014

SHARP Stop Heroin and Rescue People, the first coherent approach to the heroin epidemic

The newest Church Basement Press book is SHARP: Stop Heroin and Rescue People.

Like my first book Defying Mental Illness, it is available in print and Kindle on Amazon, and in every other ebook format.

People are telling me that this new book will save lives. I have been working with community groups across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky this past year and a half. I have been struck by how poorly served people are. I am appalled by the connection between disconnected and indifferent treatment systems and opiate poisoning deaths.

I do know what effective systems look like. I served as executive director for a local outpatient addiction treatment center. I do mental health and addiction accreditation and licensing work. I am familiar with the whole range of mutual support programs.  My father could never stop drinking. AA never helped him, and he died from alcoholic dementia a few years back.  I have had a mental health recovery myself, and worked on improving outcomes for people with co-occurring disorders at a systems level with local officials and treatment system CEOs a decade ago. We couldn’t solve the whole problem – no wonder families with heroin issues can’t solve these issues  today.

People who use heroin are traumatized. They become (if they were not at the start of drug use) the “dually diagnosed” – indifferent to their fate, and primed for suicide. They need rescue, not shunning. They are stunned and shaky, and have consequences piling up around them, and have cheap relief in the syringe in their hand. Unfortunately, our public systems are not addressing this level of risk. Appointments in the future and punishment systems just add to desperation.

SHARP Stop Heroin and Rescue People is the first coherent response to heroin. It addresses heroin addiction as an epidemic. My approach is “systematic rescue,” – all the tools of the medical system, plus social support. An eight-step process manages the population’s risk and takes the person through recovery. The role of communities is to align with the medical system and produce an infrastructure supporting each step. At least then there is a certain path to addressing fatal risk, one that gets people safely through treatment to sober living and long term recovery.

The book is available now in print and kindle versions on Amazon. If you are an ebook person with a Nook or Apple or Kobo or tablet e-reader, you can download a copy at Smashwords. My community planning platform around heroin recovery is also on the SHARP Stop Heroin website

The SHARP approach is positive, delivering recovery while systematically addressing risk. This is a public policy and personal recovery framework, not some prayer. We are starting to use this tool to do community work around local recovery infrastructures. We have been confronting Kentucky officials over choices they have made around medication assisted treatment and Medicaid, because without medication assisted treatment  the infrastructure in communities is incomplete. When people can visualize a complete system, it is possible to address accountability.

I am looking for people who would like to apply this framework in their own communities. Please contact me via email -- komarek(at)

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