As Robin Williams’ fans in Missouri continue to grieve and celebrate his career, new information about his health may provide some insight into his state of mind in the days before his death. Williams’ wife said that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease when he committed suicide on Aug. 11.
It is highly possible that Williams was dealing with depression before his Parkinson’s diagnosis. However, a combination of depression and Parkinson’s can be a “perfect storm” that worsens the mood disorder, according to a neurologist interviewed by NBC News.
Parkinson’s is best known for affecting nerve cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us move. But the disorder can also similarly damage our ability to produce other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which is believed to cause happiness and well-being. This could suggest that depression is a possible side effect of Parkinson’s disease.
Unfortunately, depression can be hard to diagnose in someone with Parkinson’s. Doctors and patients may dismiss changes in mood as sadness over the Parkinson’s diagnosis. Also, the two diseases have some similar symptoms, like lack of facial expressions and speaking in a monotone.
Of course, not everyone with depression attempts suicide. But studies have shown that thoughts of death and suicide are common among Parkinson’s patients.
The illness can strike people as young as in their 20s, but more commonly appears in people in their 60s. Still, many Parkinson’s patients may find their ability to work cut short before they planned to retire. The federal Social Security Disability Insurance program acts a safety net for those forced to stop working because of a disability like Parkinson’s or depression.
Source: NBC News, “’Perfect Storm’: Parkinson’s Disease May Worsen Depression,” Linda Carroll, Aug. 14, 2014