You know the one… begins with D.

Emma Edwards is a Parkinson's Specialist Nurse with Livewell Southwest, in Plymouth, Devon. In this blog, she highlights the importance of mental health - whether conducting assessments with people with Parkinson's, or when looking after yourself and your colleagues' wellbeing.

I’m Emma and I’m a mental health nurse. And a Parkinson’s specialist nurse. For a while, I considered them to be very separate identities, especially in the early days of working with people with Parkinson’s. I guess I was so busy trying to perfect the UPDRS Part 3 examination, manage a competent blood pressure on a tremulous arm, or trying to spell the long word for the rapid alternating movement test (you know the one… begins with D), that I nearly forgot I could conduct a mental health examination as well. I honestly didn’t think I would need to use those skills for this job. I discovered pretty quick, how wrong I was.

The challenges of mental health assessment in Parkinson’s

Anyone can be affected by mental ill health. Health professionals are at a really high risk of experiencing it, especially that common one… you know the one… begins with D. 

Depression is a common non-motor symptom in Parkinson’s too. It’s not always obvious to spot. It can mimic the symptoms of Parkinson’s; such as slow movement, poor concentration and a disrupted sleep pattern. Depressive symptoms can also be similar to the side effects of Parkinson’s medication; such as psychosis, confusion and fatigue. Feelings of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, are not always readily volunteered by the people that experience them either.

So, it’s really important for professionals working in Parkinson’s to understand the complexities of the mental health challenges this population may experience. It’s also really important for them to know how to assess further and be able to access the treatments that might help. I broached this topic in my published article Depression in Parkinson’s disease: how nurses can help.

World Mental Health Day 2020

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a massive mental health challenge for everyone. On 10 October, it was World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme was ‘mental health for all’. As a self-confessed social media addict (follow me on Twitter @PlymouthPDnurse), I observed across the Twittersphere the many inspiring ways people and organisations, like Samaritans, reached out to honour the day.

Tips for promoting good mental health were shared, as were personal stories from people hoping to end the stigma attached to mental illness. The global Parkinson’s community came out in force too and discussed the need for more awareness of mental health issues for people with the condition and their families, the latter often being overlooked completely.

My takeaway message from that day is not to doubt myself when asking about a person’s mental health state; it’s incredibly vital. And not just for the people on my caseload, but for my work colleagues too. With NHS England’s recent announcement of extra funding to support NHS staff mental health, its importance is thankfully being recognised. In these testing times that we’ve found ourselves living and working in, we’ve got to look after our own mental health and wellbeing, and encourage those around us to do the same. If you’re not sure where to start with that in the NHS, you’ll find links to support for health and social care professionals across the UK at the end of this article.

Mental Health Hub meeting coming up

The UK Parkinson’s Excellence Network is holding a Mental Health Hub virtual meeting on 26 November, 2020. It’s a free meeting for professionals working in Parkinson’s and mental health. It will be a great way to gain more of an understanding of this aspect of the condition, and enhance your practice and confidence, so please have a look at the information and sign up.

Mental Health and wellbeing support for health and social care professionals

Your employer may also have their own support offer in place. Check with your human resources team to see what's available.

More news for professionals

Keep up to date with what’s happening around the Excellence Network.