Guide to Better Mental Health for People With Parkinson’s

Jun 9, 2022

Living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) can be both physically and mentally difficult. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, so it’s vital to learn how to live with the condition and nurture your mental health. This guide will provide you with information on common mental health issues among people with Parkinson’s, as well as strategies for coping and thriving with the disease.

How Does Parkinson’s Affect Your Mental Health?

Mental health consists of your psychological, emotional, and social well-being. It can be shaken up from the outset when you first learn about your diagnosis. Additionally, the disease’s symptoms can make things tougher. So let’s look at these symptoms and their role in your mental health.

Motor Symptoms

Parkinson’s is mainly caused by the brain’s lack of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in many body functions, including movement, memory, motivation, and mood. As the neurons in your brain gradually break down (or die), the production of dopamine declines. Without dopamine, the brain struggles to send accurate signals to the rest of your body. This leads to motor symptoms such as tremors, Bradykinesia, stiffness or coordination, and balance issues.

Person feeling stiffness

In addition, as motor symptoms of PD worsen, it can be hard to complete simple activities without help, like eating or washing. This can be incredibly frustrating and demeaning, especially to individuals that value their independence.

Non-Motor Symptoms

Parkinson’s mental health is also often affected by non-motor symptoms caused by the lack of dopamine, such as:

  • Cognitive problems (dementia, difficulty paying attention, memory problems, etc.)
  • Constipation

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite, smell, or taste

  • Mood changes

  • Sleep disorders or problems (waking up too early, waking up throughout the night, falling asleep during the day, sleep apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder, etc.)
  • Vision problems

  • Weight fluctuations

Types of Mental Health Issues

Older man feeling depressed

Motor and non-motor symptom severity can vary amongst people living with PD. Nonetheless, it’s critical to know that one or a combination of the symptoms can lead to mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious at some point in life, but for some people, especially those with PD, it can be a more constant problem. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting 40 million adults. That’s 18% of the population.

Depression

Depression is a mental disorder that can cause feelings of sadness and loss of interest. It can also lead to physical problems, such as fatigue and sleep issues. Depression is common in people with Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that up to 50% of people with PD experience depression at some point in their disease.

There are many possible causes of depression in PD. The physical changes that occur with PD can lead to social isolation and a loss of independence, which can be very difficult to adjust to. PD can also cause changes in brain chemistry that may contribute to depression. In addition, the medications used to treat PD can sometimes have side effects, including depression.

Stress

Woman feeling stress under a red light

There are many different types of stress, but the kind we’re talking about when it comes to Parkinson’s disease is called “environmental stress.” This stress is caused by things like a change in your routine, a new job, or even something as simple as moving to a new house. It can also be caused by an illness or injury.

Environmental stress can trigger a chemical reaction in your body that makes it harder for your nervous system to function properly. This can lead to an increase in the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Hallucinations and Delusions

There are many different types of hallucinations, but they can generally be divided into two main categories: visual and auditory. People with Parkinson’s disease may experience either or both of these types of hallucinations.

Delusions are a type of false belief. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease may believe someone is trying to harm them. They may also have delusions about the future, such as thinking they will pass away.

How to Improve Mental Health

Treatment for those with PD can vary from person to person. Always check with a doctor before taking any medication or kickstarting a new program to treat mental health issues. Let’s take a look at helpful ways to bolster your mental health.

Therapy or Counseling

Man speaking with a doctor about his parkinson's disease-min

Talking openly about the challenges of the disease with your therapist or counselor can help to reduce stress and anxiety. You get a chance to speak your mind. Plus, your therapist can also recommend programs, practices, or medications to best help your issue.

Counseling can also provide practical tips for managing symptoms and can be a valuable source of support during difficult times. In addition, therapy can help people come to terms with the changes that Parkinson’s disease has brought about in their lives and develop coping strategies for dealing with it. Consider talking to a therapist or counselor if you are living with Parkinson’s disease. It may just be the help you need. Psychology Today has an online tool to help you find a local therapist matched to your needs.

Lifestyle Adjustments

A healthy lifestyle can improve your mental health as your mind and body are intrinsically connected. Some of these adjustments can be relatively minor, but you will feel much better afterward.

Woman with Parkinson's disease doing yoga outside-min

Regular exercise

Both indoor and outdoor exercise has benefits like reduced stress, anxiety, and depression due to the mood-boosting endorphins your body puts out during the exertion. It can also help you sleep well.

Improve your sleep

Simple adjustments like making your bedroom quiet and comfortable, sleeping at the same time every night, limiting caffeine consumption, or avoiding lying in bed awake for extended periods can improve your sleep quality and quantity. This, in turn, improves your mental health as your brain gets some rest.

Healthy diet

A healthy and balanced diet can make you feel better from a well-rounded collection of important nutrients.

Salad for a healthy diet

Make time for yourself.

Relaxation and meditation practices are meant to have calming effects so that you might find yourself in a better mind space afterward. In addition, you can try out simple activities by reading a book, listening to music, aromatherapy, mindfulness practices, or getting a massage.

Medication

Several mental health conditions can be improved through medication like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotic medications, mood-stabilizing medications, and stimulants. If you’re seeking medicine for your mental health, speak with your doctor or therapist.

Importance of Being Social and Connected to Community

People are inherently social creatures, so isolating yourself can do more harm than good regarding mental health. Connecting to a community can give you a sense of belonging, offering a higher meaning and purpose to your everyday life. This can help you combat loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Happy mother and daughter

A strong support network is crucial for helping you get back on your feet when feeling down. Surround yourself with loved ones who want to understand your struggles and help you through them, and learn to communicate openly about the issues that you are facing.

Suppose you are hesitant about opening up to your loved ones. In that case, you can also search for support groups or events for people with PD to find others experiencing the same mental health struggles as you. In these spaces, you can freely share information about your condition and find support from people who understand.

What to Do Next

The trials and tribulations of Parkinson’s mental health issues vary greatly from person to person. Still, one thing will always hold true — you should never feel ashamed for asking for help for your mental health. Reach out to us or talk further about supporting your mental health and how you can get connected to PCLA’s expansive set of PD resources.

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