Depression Often Goes Untreated In Parkinson’s Patients

Rayshell Clapper for – Your Universe Online
On August 11, 2014, people were rocked by the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide by asphyxiation. He hung himself according to one CNN article. For many, the shock was too confusing. Williams helped the world through his stage performances, shows, and movies. He did charity work, entertained the troops, and spread laughter to many. His sudden suicide hurt many.
A Huffington Post report included a written statement from Susan Schneider, Williams’ wife, who shared with the public that Williams suffered from depression, anxiety, and had recently been diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Schneider explained that her husband was not yet ready to share his diagnosis with the world.
MedLine Plus, a service of the National Institutes of Health, defines Parkinson’s as a type of movement disorder which occurs when nerve cells in the brain do not produce enough dopamine. It can be genetic or environmental. Symptoms have gradual development and include the following:
• Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face
• Stiffness of the arms, legs, and trunk
• Slowness of movement
• Poor balance and coordination
Parkinson’s not only affects the brain and motor skills, but it also most definitely has an impact on the patient’s mental and emotional health. In fact, a recent study conducted by Northwestern University investigators has found that depression is not only a common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease, but also often goes untreated in many patients. This, perhaps, could provide more insight into Robin Williams’ suicide as he suffered from depression and had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
The Northwestern investigators “looked at records of more than 7,000 people with Parkinson’s disease. Among those with high levels of depressive symptoms, only one-third had been prescribed antidepressants before the study began, and even fewer saw social workers or mental health professionals for counseling…The investigators then focused their analysis on the remaining two-thirds of patients with depressive symptoms who were not receiving treatment at the start of the study. Throughout a year of observation, less than 10 percent of them received prescriptions for antidepressants or referrals to counseling. Physicians were most likely to identify depression and advocate treatment for patients with the severest depression scores.”
Depression in itself has a great impact on one’s well-being and decision making; however, pair that with Parkinson’s and a lack of treatment for the depression, and the patient has a formula for tragedy. Symptoms of depression warrant attention, especially in those who suffer from other diagnoses. The National Institutes of Mental Health list the following as signs and symptoms of depression:
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
• Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight changes
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Suicide attempts
• Restlessness, irritability
• Persistent physical symptoms
As anyone can see, depression is not just “feeling blue.” These symptoms are devastating for those who suffer. Furthermore, compound any one or any combination of the symptoms of depression with something like Parkinson’s and tragedy can strike, especially if the depression goes untreated. As Northwestern identified in its study, the majority of patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s had depression that went untreated.
As Dr. Danny Bega, the first author of the study put it, “Physicians must be more vigilant about screening patients for depression as part of a routine assessment of Parkinson’s disease, and the effectiveness of different treatments for depression in this population need to be assessed.” To save future people from the sad fate that Robin Williams chose, we must be more vigilant and aware of our loved ones with depression and Parkinson’s Disease.
The full study is published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s Disease: A Complete Guide for Patients and Families – A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book