When musician Michael Angelakos was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19, he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that there wasn’t a magic pill that could cure him. “You don’t want to believe this is a lifelong condition,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s a very strange disorder to deal with.”
Around the time of his diagnosis, he was in the process of forming the band Passion Pit — all while struggling through severe bouts of intense mania and depression. “My last manic episode was about two years long, although it’s important to note that what goes up must come down. It’s an extremely isolating type of depression,” he recalls.
Angelakos, now 30, claims that the most dangerous part of having bipolar disorder, what he considers the most life-threatening of all mental illnesses, is what happens in-between these states. “When I’ve attempted suicide and when I’ve been the most suicidal has been when I’ve been cycling out of mania into hypomania, depression, very quick mood changes that trigger feelings and ideas that are essentially along the lines of ‘Well, I think the easiest thing to do right now is to not be alive.’”
The closest the frontman came to committing suicide was when he was having trouble leveling his illness. Despite taking various medications, including lithium, he wasn't able to find balance, and visited the hospital multiple times. He eventually had to cancel tour dates in 2012, around the time the band’s third album Gossamer was released.
Angelakos says the response he received was mixed. “Most people thought it was a gimmick, that it was a way to basically sell the record,” which, he reveals, happens to be about a manic episode. “I just couldn’t believe the reaction to me saying, ‘For mental health reasons, I have to cancel shows.’” But his hope was that people could see him as human being and would be accepting and understanding of his bipolar disorder, which is why the conversation surrounding his illness carried on.
“This was before artists were really talking about this. To my knowledge, it was the first album that traces a manic episode and talks pretty honestly about it. It just became part of my life and that’s when I just started becoming an advocate,” he says.
Angelakos then made it his mission to develop and build a community that gives support to artists struggling with mental health issues. “People in film and people in other forms of art tend to have some type of institutional … support. We don’t have that really in music. I started thinking, if our product is based on our emotional health, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in the emotional health and well-being of an artist?”
In 2017, during a manic episode, he started the Wishart Group, a nonprofit named after his great-grandmother, who he says was the first person to really understand his mental illness and would take care of him in his manic states. The charity’s efforts are focused on improving the health and well-being of artists by combining two fields that generally don’t intersect: music and science.
Angelakos has partnered with neuroscientists who are focused on data-driven research to track the mental and emotional health of artists. On his last tour, he even participated himself. “That was the first time anyone’s ever collected this type of data to track mood and emotional well-being in general on a tour,” he says. “We’re seeing lots of deaths on the road because people are over-touring. We want to actually utilize what we did and make it into something that a lot of other artists can participate in.”
In conjunction with the Wishart Group’s inception, Angelakos self-released Passion Pit’s fifth album Tremendous Sea of Love, a raw and unpolished ode to his mental illness. Angelakos took to social media to promote the album and offered free downloads in exchange for tweets about the importance of science and research. “Tremendous Sea of Love was a way to basically talk about the hardest things to talk about when it came to my mental health,” he says. “And I thought the way I could release it could speak to that even better than just the content of the songs. It’s probably one of my favorite records because it’s so uniquely me. That’s basically Passion Pit.”