People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) can feel a sense of helplessness at any stage of the disease. Feelings of heavy dread can often follow a new diagnosis, changing abilities and symptoms or the frustration of altering medications. Many with Parkinson’s may relate to these feelings and have found ways to work through them. However, if you are feeling stuck and your feelings have evolved into thoughts about suicide, we want you to know there are places to turn to for support.
When asked, up to 30% of people with Parkinson’s have thought about suicide. There are different paths a person with Parkinson’s can take that lead to suicidal thoughts.
Depression is a symptom of Parkinson’s that can lead to suicidal thoughts. Most people with PD will go undiagnosed or undertreated for depression, which can evolve into dark thoughts. It is important to remember that once diagnosed, depression is treatable. Depression can also be a side effect of Parkinson’s medications or be the result of social isolation or seasonal depression.
Depression is not the only cause for suicidal thoughts among people with Parkinson’s. For some, thinking of suicide can be part of the thought process of a person who is thinking clearly, someone who is looking to their future and does not see an optimistic outcome. Thoughts of hopelessness can also lead to suicidal thoughts and are also not always linked to depression.
Increased Risk of Suicide
People with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s are at higher risk for suicide, according to a study published in in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February 2020.
Depression can be a common PD symptom. Even in cases of mild depression, suicide risk is elevated for those with Parkinson’s.
How to Address Suicidal Thoughts
People living with Parkinson's benefit most from a comprehensive, team-based healthcare approach that includes a social worker, therapist, psychologist or counselor. With a team in place, should depression or suicidal thoughts occur, you have an established relationship with a professional you trust. However, it is never too late to add a mental health professional to your care team.
The below tips are designed to help you find support for yourself if you have thoughts of suicide.
There are 24-hour suicide prevention hotlines that can help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Call 911 if you are at imminent risk of suicide.
Seek professional help
Some healthcare professionals are trained to address neurological conditions and suicide. Begin working with a psychologist, therapist, counselor or social worker. If you need help finding one, ask your care team for a referral to a mental health professional.
Find a support group
Many people find support groups of peers helpful because they offer the opportunity to share and learn with others while also breaking patterns of isolation. While you may not be able to control the fact that you are depressed, you can build a support system.
It can be easy for people with Parkinson’s to distance themself. Try to connect with family and friends, schedule regular phone calls, seek out a support group or wellness class. Remember that the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to many online wellness classes. Call the Parkinson's Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) for help building your PD virtual community or finding a nearby exercise class and support group.
It is common for someone who is depressed to neglect self-care. Building relaxing activities into your day can help improve sleep. When possible, exercise, get outside, stimulate the mind, meditate and connect with others.
If you are a care partner or family member, learn about suicide warning signs and how you can help here.
Caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s can bring it challenges. Caregivers are also susceptible to fatigue and feeling overwhelmed. If your care partner shows signs of suicidal thoughts, he or she may need help.
When providing care, caregivers often neglect their own self-care. They report their own health as fair to poor, according to AARP’s 2020 Report, Caregiving in the U.S, while 23 percent of Americans say caregiving has made their health worse. Those who care for a loved one with Parkinson’s are also at high-risk of developing depression.
If you notice the caregiver in your life showing symptoms, encourage him or her to talk about it, seek professional help and find a way to help him or her.
Suicide Prevention Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Lifeline provides 24-hour-a-day, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones and best practices for professionals. Visit their website.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
Confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Visit their website.
Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 mental health support via text message. Visit their website.
The Parkinson’s Foundation understands that some people with Parkinson’s inquire about assisted dying, sometimes called assisted suicide or death with dignity.
According to the nonprofit Death with Dignity, “Death with dignity laws allow qualified terminally-ill adults to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. As of September 2019, aid in dying statutes are in effect in California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.” More information about Death with Dignity can be found on their website or by calling (503) 228-4415.
Learn more about suicide prevention and depression by visiting the below Parkinson’s Foundation and external resources.
- Why Am I So Down? There Is Help
- Combatting Depression
- Podcast Episode 36: Depression in Parkinson's
- Fact Sheet: Depression and PD: A Non-Drug Treatment Option
- Study Finds Suicide Rate Higher Among Those With Neurological Disorders, Everyday Health
- How to Reduce the Risk of Suicide in People with Neurologic Conditions, Brain & Life (also referenced in this article)