Passion Pit’s Michael Angelatos Battles the Demons of Depression

American electropop band Passion Pit was forced to cancel a number of performances last month. In a message to fans on their blog, lead singer Michael Angelakos said that he needed “the time to work on improving my mental health.”

Earlier in July, an article on the website Pitchfork revealed that Angelakos had been diagnosed with bipolar disease at the age of 17. A year later, while attending Emerson College (in Boston), he attempted suicide.

In 2008, he suffered a dissociative psychotic reaction (see below), which required hospitalization at a mental health facility.

This week at Lollapalooza, Angelatos gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he discusses his battle with bipolar disease, which he describes as:

It’s not just debilitating…. It’s all-encompassing. It’s something you have to work on your entire life.

My depression was so bad three weeks ago when we had to cancel everything – people don’t understand this.It was so bad that I was suffering from something called Psychomotor Retardation [also see below], which is essentially where your brain starts shutting down your entire body. So you’re sitting in bed and you can barely move.

But Angelatos says that opening up about his diagnosis has been empowering. He feels buoyed by the outpouring of support. He says he’s often “fibbed” about the reasons he’s cancelled shows because of the stigma associated with mental health issues.

As an example of how misunderstood depression can be, Angelatos related:

I was working with a specialist at one of the hospitals and he was telling me that they’ve had a lot of cancer patients come in after having cancer and they suffer from such a debilitating depression. But there’s this insane statistic that people who have had cancer and have had depression prefer cancer. And that’s something that you don’t hear.

Passion Pit recently released their second album, Gossamer and Angelatos is feeling optimistic:

eight years of hospitalizations and medications and finally I found treatment and medication that works. It’s a pain but hopefully now that’s just going to eliminate the need to take time off and I can actually start focusing on what I like to do.

A good introduction to bipolar illness can be found in our stories about Catherine Zeta-Jones and Glenn Close’s sister Jennie.

Here’s a little information about the two associated symptoms that Angelatos suffered from: dissociative psychotic reaction and psychomotor retardation.

Dissociative Psychotic Reaction

Sometimes, a person with severe episodes of mania or depression has psychotic symptoms too, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to reflect the person’s extreme mood. For example, psychotic symptoms for a person having a manic episode may include believing he or she is famous, has a lot of money, or has special powers. In the same way, a person having a depressive episode may believe he or she is ruined and penniless, or has committed a crime. As a result, people with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms are sometimes wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, another severe mental illness that is linked with hallucinations and delusions.

Psychomotor Retardation

Psychomotor retardation involves a slowing-down of thought and decrease of physical movements in an individual. Psychomotor retardation can cause a visible slowing of physical and emotional reactions, including speech and affect. This is most-commonly seen in people with major depression and in the depressed phase of bipolar disorder; it is also associated with the adverse effects of certain drugs, such as benzodiazepines.

Examples of psychomotor retardation include the following:

  • Unexplained difficulty in carrying out what are usually considered “automatic” or “mundane” self-care tasks for healthy people such as taking a shower, dressing, self-grooming, cooking, brushing one’s teeth or exercising.
  • Physical difficulty performing activities which normally would require little thought or effort such as walking up a flight of stairs, getting out of bed, preparing meals and clearing dishes from the table, household chores or returning phone calls.
  • Activities such as shopping, getting groceries, caring for the daily needs of one’s children and meeting the demands of employment or school are commonly affected. Individuals experiencing these symptoms typically sense that something is wrong, and may be confused about their inability to perform these tasks.
  • Activities usually requiring little mental effort can become challenging. Balancing one’s checkbook, making a shopping list or making decisions about mundane tasks (such as deciding what errands need to be done) are often difficult.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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