Parkinson’s disease is often thought of as a physical disease: in advanced cases, the disease is known for its tremors, tics, stiffness and mobility problems.
Yet there is a powerful connection between mental health and Parkinson’s disease, too, with dementia often settling in later stages of the disease, especially with Parkinson’s disease in senior adults.
One major mental health issue associated with Parkinson’s is depression. Parkinsons literature suggests as many as half of people with Parkinson’s disease may also suffer from depression. This may be related to the neurotransmitter dopamine‘s role in Parkinsons disease.
Depression is a significant condition that can hinder normal functioning, and in extreme cases, can even lead to isolation, self-mutilation or suicide. While it can be triggered by stressful events, prolonged environmental or social circumstances, or even from medication, depression results from abnormal brain function the causes of which are not clear.
In addition to the classic depression signs of moodiness, unsociability, decreased hygiene or care for personal appearance, isolation or low self-esteem, Parkinson’s patients may exhibit different signs of depression. Differences in the symptom profile for people with Parkinsons as opposed to those who do not may include:
- Elevated rates of anxiety
- Sadness without guilt or self-blame
- Frequent occurrences of suicidal thoughts but with fewer actual suicides
The good news is that depression, for both healthy individuals and those with Parkinsons is treatable. Seeking and undergoing treatment for depression will allow people to feel better about themselves and their circumstances, and in the case of Parkinsons sufferers, will allow them to focus more on overcoming the symptoms of their disease and living a more normal life.
Treatment should be a team effort between the Parkinsons physician and a qualified mental health professional, preferably a psychiatrist who can prescribe appropriate medication. By encouraging communication between neurologist and psychiatrist, potential medication interference can be avoided and best possible mental and physical health achieved more quickly.
Even when treated, depression does not ease overnight, and it may take time to find a balance of medication and emotional therapy to help patients recover, even if they are very ill. No matter the stage of Parkinsons a person might be experiencing, there is a treatment for depression that can be incorporated into his or her overall health treatment plan without compromising the efficacy of either program.
People with Parkinsons, especially if they suffer from depression, may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of their health issues. It may be helpful to learn more about the disease and the advances that allow most people with Parkinsons to live long and productive lives. It may also be comforting to consult with other people who have the disease and who have learned to live with it.
Worldwide, there are national, regional and local associations dedicated to Parkinsons disease research, education and helping people cope with it. This kind of real-life support from people who know what it is like to live with Parkinsons can be an useful addition to the support network provided by family and friends.