Parkinson's and mental health

People with Parkinson's can experience a range of mental health issues alongside their physical symptoms.

In fact, nearly half of all people with Parkinson's will experience depression or anxiety.

What are hidden Parkinson's symptoms?

Parkinson's specialist Dr Robin Fackrell explains the range of hidden symptoms people with the condition may experience, such as depression and anxiety.

Watch the full lecture (link at the end) to hear his tips on how to manage these.

Watch more videos on mental health

Look after your mental health

FAQs about Parkinson's and mental health

What mental health issues can people with Parkinson’s face?

Alongside the physical symptoms of Parkinson's, such as tremor and muscle stiffness, people with the condition can also experience a number of non-physical symptoms. These range from depression and anxiety to hallucinations, memory problems and dementia.

Anxiety and depression can be triggered by the stress of receiving a diagnosis like Parkinson's. But they can also be triggered by physical changes in the brain caused by the condition itself.

This page deals mainly with anxiety and depression, as nearly half of all people with Parkinson's have experienced one of these issues.

How do I know whether I have a mental health issue?

Anxiety is an ongoing feeling of unease, worry or fear. It is often a natural reaction to situations you find threatening or difficult. It usually disappears when the situation changes, or if you get used to the situation or can move away from it.

But some people become anxious for long periods of time and for no clear reason. This can make life difficult and may affect their work and social life.

Depression is usually diagnosed when someone has feelings of extreme sadness or a sense of emotional 'emptiness' for a long time. It's more than a temporary feeling of sadness, unhappiness or frustration. These feelings may affect your ability to carry out day-to-day activities. A person who is depressed will typically have 1 or more of these symptoms:

  • lack of interest in, or pleasure from, usual activities

  • feeling down or hopeless nearly every day

  • feeling anxious, fearful or constantly worried

You should speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse if you experience any of these symptoms.

Do my mental health issues and my physical symptoms affect each other?

People with Parkinson's regularly tell us that they feel their mental health issues make their physical symptoms of Parkinson's worse, and recent research has proven this. That's why it's important to talk to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse about all of your Parkinson's symptoms, whether physical or mental. 

Anxiety can sometimes occur during the periods between taking your medication. If your last dose is wearing off and you feel your physical or non-physical symptoms are not in control, it can be stressful. Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse if this applies to you. They may be able to change your medication to help with this.

Even if you don't have 'on' and 'off' periods between doses, you may still have generalised anxiety if your physical Parkinson's symptoms aren't properly treated. Again, changes to your medication may help.

We spoke to Lorraine, who has Parkinson's, about how her anxiety affects her physical symptoms.

Who can I talk to now?

You can call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303. It's open Monday-Friday 9am-7pm and Saturday 10am-2pm. Our trained advisers can provide support to anyone affected by Parkinson's.

You can also contact the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393, which is open 9am-6pm, from Monday to Friday.

If you need to talk to someone outside of these hours, Samaritans are free to call 24/7 on 116 213.

Where can I get help and support, and what treatment is available?

If you need help for a mental health issue, or if you have any concerns about your emotional wellbeing, you should first speak to a medical professional, such as your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse. They will be able to offer you advice based on your own personal circumstances.

Anxiety and depression are routinely treated with a type of antidepressant drug called Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Medication can certainly be useful to help manage anxiety and depression. Talking therapies, especially cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), have been specifically developed to treat anxiety and can be highly effective. However, we don’t have any formal scientific evidence to demonstrate exactly how well antidepressants or CBT work in Parkinson’s.

You can talk to your GP if you would like to be referred to a counsellor, as many surgeries have counsellors linked to their service.

It may be useful to fill in our non-motor symptoms questionnaire and take it with you when you visit your GP. The answers will help you discuss your mental health symptoms and also see how they change over time.

Find out more about the specific treatments available for anxiety and depression.

What can I do to help my anxiety or depression?

Although you should get advice from a mental health professional, there are a number of things you can do yourself that may help improve your mood.

Exercise

Research has shown that exercising 2 to 3 times a week, especially as part of a group, can help with depression. It can also boost your mood and help you sleep well.

Diet

Try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine (found in tea, coffee and some fizzy drinks), especially late in the evening. These can make some of the physical symptoms of anxiety worse.

Sleep

To help improve the amount and quality of your sleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable. Try to go to bed at the same time each night.

Complementary therapies

Making time to relax can be helpful. Try doing things you enjoy, such as reading a book or listening to music. Some people find relaxation therapies and complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy, meditation and massage, useful.

Where can I talk to other people in my situation?

There are lots of places where you can connect with people who may be experiencing similar issues to you.

Peer support

Our free peer support service puts you in touch with a trained volunteer who has a similar experience of Parkinson's to you - someone who understands. The service is for people with Parkinson's and carers. Call 0808 800 0303 and ask for the peer support service.

Forum

You can also talk to people on our online forum. The community welcomes anyone affected by Parkinson's. It’s a great place to share information and have a chat - all you need is an email address.

Self-management programme

Our self-management programme is designed to help you navigate your life with Parkinson's. You’ll attend a series of sessions where you can share experiences and discuss the practical and emotional impact of Parkinson's.

Local groups

We also have local support groups across the country, including groups specifically for younger people. Local groups are a great way to meet other people with Parkinson's in your area, find out more about the condition and get support in a friendly and welcoming environment.

I'm supporting someone with Parkinson's and I'm struggling with my own mental health issues – where can I get help?

It's important for family, friends and carers to recognise that the mood of someone with Parkinson's can negatively affect their own emotions.

Because of this, you should try to look after your own physical and mental health as much as you can. This can be difficult, but it's important to remember that by taking care of yourself, you will be better able to support the person with Parkinson's.

Many carers find it helpful to join a group, where they can meet other people in a similar situation. Some Parkinson's UK local groups have special activities for carers. There’s also our online forum, which allows you to chat from home and has a dedicated section for carers, friends and family.