Maybe it’s a rainy day, a lonely afternoon or a sentimental song that brings on feelings of sadness. Occasionally, feeling “blue” is part of being human. For people with Parkinson’s, though, these feelings can escalate into what researchers refer to as clinical depression.
According to Mark Mapstone, PhD at the University of California – Irvine, depression is one of the most common non-motor symptoms affecting as many as half of people living with Parkinson’s. It’s important for people with Parkinson’s and their loved ones to recognize the most common triggers of depression and the actions they can take to live well.
What’s the Difference Between Depression and Sadness?
Most clinicians describe depression as an extended feeling of sadness, purposelessness, irritability and impaired body function, as opposed to just an occasional “bad day.” It may be helpful to gauge your emotional moods against the following guide:
- I often feel blue for more than several weeks at a time.
- I frequently have feelings of unworthiness.
- I lack the pleasure I used to get from things I normally enjoy.
- I have an overall feeling of low-energy and fatigue.
- I experience changes in my sleep patterns, either too much or too little sleep.
- I’m often on the verge of tears.
- I frequently lack the ability to concentrate.
- I’ve experienced recent weight gain or weight loss.
If you can relate to any of the above symptoms, you’re not alone. In fact, one of the challenges with the connection between depression and Parkinson’s is that many of the symptoms overlap. What is clear, however, is the positive role that early intervention plays.
Watch this short video for expert advice on how to know when to seek help for your depression.
Identify the Warning Signs
As with all aspects of your health, identifying early warning signs can help you live well by managing your symptoms. Three categories represent the most common triggers that are associated with depressive episodes:
As a person with Parkinson’s, you have likely become an expert student of your own body. The skill of listening to your mind and body is an important tool in recognizing stressors that can trigger depression. Common stress-related triggers include difficult life transitions, like a child leaving the home or unexpected financial challenges. Other stressful situations arise from an over-committed lifestyle, an inability to say “no,” or unwillingness to pace yourself.
All losses have the potential to trigger depression, especially the loss of a job, a loved one or an important relationship. For people with Parkinson’s, losing the ability to participate in a favorite activity, sport or hobby can bring on additional grief-like depression.
The problem with habits is that we do them without even thinking. Some habits are worth reevaluating, however, especially when they’re known triggers of depression. The biggest culprits, and this won’t come as a surprise, include your diet, your exercise and your sleep routine. Poor quality in any of these areas can play a major role in the onset of depression.
The Good News About Depression
According to Dr. Irene Richard, neurologist at the University of Rochester, quality of life of people with Parkinson’s is affected more by depression than by their physical symptoms. At first glance, that may not sound like good news, but Richard explains, “The good news is that depression is treatable, and, when depression is treated, everything becomes more manageable.”
Learn How to Cope and Find Your Happy Place
Many people feel empowered to learn that there are many strategies for coping with and treating their depression. Depending on the severity of the depression, physicians will often recommend a combination of medication supported by counseling sessions or talk therapy.
An emerging body of research points to the role that food plays in emotional health. Specific studies indicate that diets rich in tryptophan – foods like nuts, cheese, chicken and beans – can actually boost serotonin levels and lessen feelings of depression. Download our Nutrition Worksheet for other foods you can consider adding to your diet and to create your personal action plan for dietary changes.
In addition to medication, therapy and diet, experts strongly recommend holistic strategies that remind you of our connectedness and give you a reason to smile.
- Consider enrolling in a yoga or meditation class.
- Sign up for a music or art therapy course.
- Make a new “furr-ever” friend through a pet therapy center.
- Meet a friend for coffee.
- Watch a movie that makes you laugh.
Identify mood triggers, add positive energy into your daily life and provide a way to talk with your doctor and healthcare team about treating depression with the help of our Depression Worksheet.
Whatever you do, remember that you are not alone. Be compassionate with yourself. Be committed to exploring. Be prepared to live well…today and every day.
Learn More About the Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s
While the effects of Parkinson’s on movement are often the most visible symptoms, like tremor, other impacts of Parkinson’s not related to movement, like emotional and cognitive challenges, can sometimes have an even greater effect on your quality of life. Understand these aspects of Parkinson’s in order make informed decisions and continue on your path to living well.