First-Person Humanism: A Passion to Help Others With Mental Illness

By Mick Anderson

Manic depression is searching my soul
I know what I want but I just don’t know
How to, go about getting it
…Manic depression is a frustrating mess
“Manic Depression,” Jimi Hendrix, 1967


People are often drawn to humanism because they have a passion about something that really matters in their lives. During the last six months I have met a lot of wonderful humanists who fit in that category. Let me tell you about one of my passions (besides my children, grandchildren, and music): helping others who have mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders.

One of my favorite sections of “Humanism and Its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III” reads: “Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of their survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community.”

That philosophy is the essence of my work in the mental-health field. I have the good fortune to work as a Peer Recovery Specialist (mental health worker) for a first-class, full-service mental-health service organization in St. Paul. One of the requirements for my job is to have a lived experience with mental illness. I qualify because I have been dealing (successfully, I might add) with bipolar disorder for the past 26 years.

I remember as an 18-year-old hearing Jimi Hendrix do a little ditty called “Manic Depression.” At that time I had no idea what he was talking about but I loved the guitar solo! This brings to mind the unsettling statistic that 50 percent of chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24. That was my experience.

Mental illness takes a huge toll. In fact, adults with serious symptoms die 18 to 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions. In my daily work, I see many clients who have diabetes, alcoholism, and other major health problems.

Here are some more facts, courtesy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Nearly 44 million adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. Eighteen percent, or 42 million, live with anxiety disorders; 7 percent, or 16 million, with major depression; 3 percent, or 6 million, with bipolar disorder; and 1 percent,  or 2.5 million, with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
  • Twenty-six percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness.
  • Sixty percent of adults with mental illness, and 50 percent of youths aged 8 to 15, did not receive mental-health services in the previous year.
  • Twenty-four percent of state prisoners have a recent history of a mental-health condition.
  • Ninety percent of those who died by suicide have an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Furthermore, 8.4 million adults in the U.S. have both mental-health and addiction disorders. Thankfully, the mental-health treatment industry has recognized this and many programs like mine offer a dual diagnosis curriculum. Mental-health and substance-abuse issues used to always be treated separately in different treatment facilities. Research shows that treating both illnesses together is much more effective in helping clients reduce their symptoms and stay clean and sober.

As a humanist, you can do your part to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness by educating yourself with articles like this. If you want further information or to volunteer time and compassion to one of the many worthwhile mental-health service organizations in the metropolitan area, please feel free to contact me at I’m also putting together a program on mental illness for Humanists of Minnesota later this fall. We’ll keep you posted!

This is the first of a series of articles by Humanists of Minnesota members about how humanism  influences their lives and work. If you would like to tell your story, please contact Suzanne Perry at


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