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.

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