Article written by Jackie Hunt Christensen.
It is normal to feel a sense of loss and sadness after a Parkinson’s diagnosis. But if these feelings linger for weeks at a time or longer and affect your ability to function at home and work or engage in pleasurable activities you may be suffering from depression.
Depression is extremely common in people with Parkinson’s disease. In fact, researchers estimate that nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s experience depression. If you are diagnosed with depression, overcoming the condition will likely require a multi-faceted approach —including medication, therapy and lifestyle strategies.
Coping with Parkinson’s disease is not easy, learn how to feel better
In the months or years following a Parkinson’s diagnosis, you many notice some negative changes in your mood. For some people, this depression may be a temporary condition, related to the adjustment of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. For others, the depression is long lasting, triggered by chemical changes in the brain or ongoing feelings of powerlessness and fear that can occur when dealing with a chronic illness.
If you think you may be depressed it is crucial that you discuss these issues with your doctor. Understand that some medical conditions or medications can cause symptoms that mimic clinical depression. Once you explore the reasons behind the depression, you can get on the road to recovery. That may include counseling and medical intervention. If, however, you only focus on how bad you feel, without doing anything about it, your condition can become really serious.
Making sense of depression
Depression is an illness that deserves attention, but all too often the symptoms are ignored because people equate the condition with personal weakness. However, it is very important to take seriously any symptoms you experience that could signal depression.
The suspected causes of depression include our genes and biochemistry as well as our personal history. Severe negative life events such as a Parkinson’s diagnosis can also trigger the condition. For people with Parkinson’s, the biological effect of the disease on areas of the brain that regulate mood plays a role as well. Notice that lack of character and weakness are not considered causes.
First, it is important to understand that each person will experience depression in a unique way. And, most importantly, you should not be embarrassed or ashamed if this happens. Some of the core symptoms you need to be aware of include: sleeplessness; loss of appetite; difficulty concentrating; feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness; feeling slowed down or restless inside; no interest in once pleasurable activities; or thoughts of death or suicide.
If you think you may be depressed, never be afraid to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If your doctor is unresponsive, or dismissive, consider consulting another doctor or a mental health professional. You need to find someone who you can work with and is willing to provide support.
In most cases, depression can be treated effectively with antidepressant medications or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Activities such as regular exercise, spirituality, supportive social interactions and meditation should also play a key role in your recovery.
Find yourself a professional
If you are caught in the grip of depression, it is important to your recovery that you work with a professional. Here are some professionals who can help:
Members of the clergy. They are typically trained to help members of their faith community deal with depression. Talking to someone you trust about your troubles can help you to feel better.
Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist has a medical degree and can diagnose depression and other psychiatric conditions, prescribe medications and other therapies, and conduct psychotherapy.
Psychotherapist. A psychotherapist is a mental health professional who has special training in how the human mind works. One form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
Neuropsychologist. A neuropsychologist has studied how physical changes in the brain affect behavior.
Social workers. Social workers often provide counseling services or emotional support, and can be very helpful in identifying community services for which you may be eligible.
Risk of suicide
If you are depressed and do not seek treatment, your symptoms can escalate to a point where you lose your will to live. If you are having suicidal thoughts please tell someone right away. Confide in a caregiver or a trusted neighbor or family member. Then contact your doctor or a mental health professional (see list above) to set up an appointment. Remember, taking this one step will put you on the road to recovery.
Caregivers are vulnerable, too
Your spouse/ partner or child who is with you on a daily basis and feels the effects of your PD can very easily become depressed. In fact, the Family Caregiver Alliance® National Center on Caregiving offers some sobering statistics:
- 20% of employed female caregivers over 50 report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.
- 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with about a quarter to half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.
The same signs listed above apply to caregivers as well. If you notice your caregiver showing any of those symptoms, urge him or her to talk to someone about it. There are many options.
In conclusion, don’t assume that being depressed is normal. Talk to others, including your medical team, about your feelings and consider those around you who may be also depressed.