By: Alyssa Murphree, April 12, 2017
Last week, myself and more than one million people who follow Passion Pit’s Facebook page (presumably) received a notification that frontman Michael Angelakos was currently livestreaming. While many artists and personalities use this feature as a newer medium of instant communication to update their fans, what Angelakos did was more unusual. When opened, the live video, which has since been deleted, titled “This is what getting help looks like” shows Angelakos in a doctor’s office, sitting in a chair with an apparatus wrapped around his head. He was undergoing an uncommonly known mental health procedure known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Angelakos, 29, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 18, receives the procedure to treat the depressive aspect of the disorder. TMS utilizes magnetic fields to stimulate nerves cells in the brain, which helps treat major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression. The treatment has yet to be approved by the FDA to treat bipolar disorder, which means research on TMS’s success in treating bipolar patients is still undergoing review.
The nearly hour long video shows Angelakos chatting with fans in the comment section while receiving the treatment. The medical technician, Bobby, chimes in as well if there are more complex, medical related inquiries. Angelakos answers questions pertaining to the treatment and his experience with bipolar disorder, discusses his latest album Tremendous Sea of Love, and offers advice to fans who may be looking to him for inspiration, all to the best of his ability. The discussion is raw and honest, as he explains that he is currently in a manic state and hasn’t slept in three days.
This is not the first time Angelakos has been open about his life with bipolar disorder. He has been lauded by his fans and the mental health community for his honesty about his disorder and how it affects his career, and for his advocacy. Earlier this year he founded The Wishart Group, an organization that has raised $250 million to provide legal, educational, and healthcare services to artists, with its primary focus being mental health support.
Too often when we think of celebrities dealing with a mental illness, we envision a poorly publicized 2007 Britney Spears, who was thrust into public scrutiny. Not somebody like Angelakos who works through the turmoil and generates art through the experiences associated with the illness. Being the sole member of Passion Pit, the majority of the songs revolve around how Angelakos’ mental health has affected his life. In a past interview, he has described the first three Passion Pit albums as the following:
On Manners, I was like, “I have no idea what’s going on and I wish I did but I just don’t have the answers.” Gossamer was like, “This is what happened, I’m so sorry”—acknowledging what happened but not saying that I’m going to do anything about it. Kindred is like: “I’m really trying to make this work and be better.”
Passion Pit is best known for its upbeat, synth heavy pop tracks, which sound like they’d be about something equally uplifting. Upon the second or third listen of a song, you may notice the deep complexity of most of the lyrics. This excerpt from an older Pitchfork article sums it up best: “Michael Angelakos is willing to admit to uncomfortable truths about himself—get past the sugar coating of Passion Pit’s songs and you’ll find bitter pills that detail the singer’s struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, drug abuse, and familial strife. It has to be the darkest music ever expected to sell Tropicana orange juice and Doritos Locos tacos.”
These “uncomfortable truths” refer to the trauma and grief the disorder has left Angelakos with. In an incident at the 2009 SXSW festival, he experienced a dissociative psychotic breakdown following a performance. He was immediately admitted to a mental health clinic. 2012 was another particularly difficult year, as Passion Pit had to cancel all of their remaining shows of their tour so Angelakos could seek treatment. He also admits not being able to remember most of the time spent touring for the first album and the period spent making the second album as an effect of the disorder.
While these revelations are startling when put into such a public context, they are very real and important to recognize, as these are the symptoms that close to three million bipolar patients in the United States alone suffer with on a daily basis. The stigma against discussing mental health publicly, while slowly diminishing, is still an issue that exists. With more and more celebrities coming forward about their struggles with mental illnesses however, people have figures to look up to in order to help lessen the shame felt in these diagnoses. Floods of people thanking Angelakos for livestreaming his treatment and being visible about his mental health fill into the comment section of the video. As society becomes more aware of representing social minorities in the media, with topics ranging from sexuality and gender to race and disability, it’s about time mental health got thrown into the mix as well.
In the background of the video, the machine providing the treatment ticks rhythmically like a metronome. Angelakos jokes around with fans as the comment section fills and scrolls at lightning speed. One fan asked whether he writes music better while in a manic or depressive state. He replies by saying, “this stuff helps me write music which helps me not be symptomatic. I don’t write music better when I’m manic or depressive.”
During the livestream and since posting the video, many have thanked Angelakos for sharing his story and increasing awareness of a lesser known treatment option. He said he believed it is important for those with and without mental illnesses to know what getting help looks like in order to make the concept less foreign and frightening. He also encouraged those watching his livestream to engage in more active and open conversations about mental health, saying, “If we don’t talk about it, that’s quite literally why no one understands what we’re talking about. I don’t have anything to hide.”
While the original video of the livestream has been removed from the Passion Pit Facebook page, Angelakos posted a follow up video on The Wishart Group Youtube channel following the treatment. He summarizes his intent of going live, stating, “I just want people to know it’s like, okay you know? — Getting help is kind of hard, it’s like breaking the ice with a conversation. It’s tough sometimes, but once you’re there it gets easier.”