Can Depression be a Symptom of Parkinson’s Disease?

In addition to problems with movement, Parkinson’s disease is also associated with changes in mental health.

An older woman looks out a window while dealing with symptoms of depression.

Updated on April 18, 2024

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that causes a loss of nerve cells in the brain. More specifically, it causes a loss of nerve cells in the parts of the brain that control movement. The characteristic symptoms are tremors, muscle stiffness, loss of balance and coordination, and slowed movement. Other symptoms include problems with chewing, swallowing, speaking, skin problems, urinary incontinence, and changes in bowel function.

Additionally, Parkinson’s disease is associated with changes in mental and emotional health, including depression, which is prevalent among people living with this condition.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes prolonged and severe feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and other forms of negative moods, such as feeling worthless, empty, or guilty. It can also cause changes in sleep patterns, energy, communication, attention, and behavior. At its most severe, it causes thoughts of suicide and self-harm. There are several types of depression, which can vary in symptoms, severity, and contributing factors.

How is Parkinson’s linked to depression?

Major negative life changes are a significant risk factor for depression. This includes receiving a diagnosis of a life-changing condition like Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that becomes more severe with time. Though there are treatments that can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life for people living with the condition, there is no cure. A reduction in quality of life, a greater dependence on loved ones, anger about the unfairness of the diagnosis, and fear and anxiety about what the future will be like can all contribute to depression.

There is also research that suggests the changes in the brain that occur when a person has Parkinson’s disease contribute to depression. In addition to affecting movement, Parkinson’s disease affects the brain’s ability to use neurotransmitters—chemicals that enable and regulate moods, thinking, behavior, and many other processes. Having depression also appears to increase a person’s risk of having Parkinson’s disease.

Depression can make Parkinson’s disease more difficult to manage. It is associated with greater disability, and can also trigger “off time,” a period where symptoms worsen as medications wear off.

However, the exact causes of depression are not fully understood, and the exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are also not fully understood. There is still much to be learned about both conditions, and medical research is ongoing.

Recognizing and treating depression

Some symptoms can overlap between Parkinson’s disease and depression. Sleep disturbances, slowed movement, difficulty communicating, and cognitive changes can occur with both conditions. This can make symptoms of depression more difficult to recognize for people living with the condition, caregivers, and healthcare providers. If you or a loved one is living with Parkinson’s and experiencing symptoms that could be depression, talk to your healthcare provider.

There are a number of treatment options that can help a person who has Parkinson’s disease and depression, including antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapies that stimulate specific parts of the brain are another treatment option. These include electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. A healthcare provider will be your best source of information about treatment options.

It's also important to acknowledge that people living with Parkinson’s disease are at an increased risk of suicide and self-harm. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, seek help immediately. Licensed mental health professionals are available at the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which can be contacted by calling or texting 988.

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