Several weekends ago at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, thousands of youthful music devotees crowded around a stage to gain a closer look at Michael Angelakos and his fun, dance-inducing, beach-ball bouncing electropop band Passion Pit. I was among them, experiencing the musical ecstasy of one of my favorite musical acts. But I could not help — in the middle of the mosh pit — reflecting on the frontman’s own personal struggles that are woven into his falsetto-driven music.
What many casual attendees might not have known is that Angelakos cancelled several tour dates in the month leading up to the festival because, as he said on the band’s website, “I’m going to take the time to work on improving my mental health.” Since the cancellations, the 25 year-old Angelakos has spoken frankly with the media about living with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that is marked by emotional fluctuations between manic highs and depressive lows. Until an article came out chronicling his struggles, he was originally not so keen about making his disorder public, describing in an interview what was to be his excuse for cancelling shows, “It’s a lot easier for me to say ‘I have pneumonia.’ And that is what I was going to say.”
Young adults across the nation share many of Angelakos’ struggles of living with mental illness that I believe are reflected in the lyrics of Passion Pit’s latest album Gossamer: institutionalization, strained relationships, depression, medication, substance abuse and mania. In 2006, it was estimated that nearly one third of young adults aged 18 through 26 experienced some kind of mental illness, including high instances of bipolar and major depression. For individuals who develop schizophrenia, their first “psychotic break” is most likely to happen in the late teens or early 20’s.
The demands of university life add to the challenges of young adults with mental illness. Many are left to balance an extremely demanding schedule and workload while managing their symptoms. Many struggle to find an understanding network of support away from home. Some find a way to make it through college. Others, sadly, are not able to finish.
Mental health affects us all at Berkeley. It’s easy for anyone to lose oneself among the thousands of students at a campus like ours. The constant pressure of exams and papers leaves students in a perpetual state of anxiety. Not everyone can keep up with the demanding social life. With all the stressors at Berkeley, we as students are are all responsible for creating an environment where we can feel comfortable “coming out” about mental health problems to our peers.
For me, all of this hit home when Cal sophomore Henry Treadway died in an apparent suicide at the end of the last school year. I knew Henry personally, and for this reason this loss reminded me how the problem of poor mental health can become uncomfortably real and close. There are many emotions that arose from the horrifying news — shock, sadness, fear, disappointment — the latter being the most poignant as I asked myself, as I’m sure many others did too, what I could I do to prevent something so drastic and fatal as suicide?
The answer is difficult because, like Angelakos, many young adults keep their struggles with mental health private. Many don’t reach out for help or don’t even know what help exists. Among college students in the nation, only about a third with mental health problems received treatment within the last year. But there are open doors out there for mental health care. The Tang Center offers mental health counseling services and referrals for students who are concerned about a friend who may be experiencing trouble. Of course, someone still has to step through those doors and it takes courage to do so yourself or another person.
Many still don’t or will not seek services because of the stigma associated with having a mental illness. My hope is that the revelation of mental illness from the front runner of Passion Pit and other well-known figures will normalize these disorders as something that many people go through. For young adults, it’s important to see their peers addressing these issues early on, which can lead to greater control over the mental illness throughout the course of one’s life. Angelakos began his treatment for bipolar disorder when he was 18 and has since said that he has found a treatment and medication that works for him.
Michael Angelakos was right. It is a lot easier to call it pneumonia. For a young adult who makes a living, bellowing music that is filled with life and passion, the days when the body and mind feel absolutely dead are enough to want to forget. Yet forgetting or hiding his eight years of hospitalizations and medication roulette would discolor the story of his recovery. Singing it is when the healing begins.