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Caring for Your Mental Health With Parkinson’s

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 08, 2020

photo of talk therapy

An important part of managing Parkinson’s is taking care of your mental health. More than two-thirds of people with this condition have anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, or behavior problems. With the right treatment, you can keep these issues at bay.

If you have anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, or other mental health issues, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to your doctor. They may suggest a mix of counseling, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Finding a Therapist

Different types of mental health professionals can help you.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication. Some psychiatrists, but not all, also do psychotherapy, which you might hear called talk therapy.

Social workers, licensed professional counselors, and psychologists offer psychotherapy, but don’t prescribe medication.

Neuropsychologists, neuropsychiatrists, and health psychologists have specialized expertise in issues related to your health.

You may choose to have a team of doctors, like a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist.

To find a therapist, ask your doctor, a loved one, or someone who’s living with Parkinson’s if there’s someone they can recommend. If you’re part of a support group, ask members for advice. You can also check with your insurance company and get a list of doctors.

Some therapists offer a phone meeting or introductory appointment before you start therapy. It’s a chance to find out if you’re comfortable with them before you start treatment. If you don’t hit it off with the first therapist you talk to, keep looking until you find someone who’s a better match.

How Therapy Works

A therapist can teach you how to manage your fears, thoughts, and feelings about living with Parkinson’s. They can help you resolve issues you’re struggling with and improve your quality of life.

Many therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, a way to help you recognize and reframe your thinking to handle life with the disease better and ease your symptoms. Other types of therapy include interpersonal therapy, which explores your relationships with other people and with yourself, and supportive therapy, where the therapist plays a supportive, encouraging role in your life.

You may do individual counseling, group counseling, or both. Your therapist may suggest bringing your partner or spouse once in a while.

When you first meet the therapist, bring a list of your medications. Think about bringing a friend or loved one with you to share their thoughts. Ask your therapist and your neurologist to talk to each other so you have a balanced approach to your health.

Taking Medication

Your doctor or psychiatrist may suggest antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, or changes to your current Parkinson’s medications.

Everyone’s different, and finding the right mix and doses of medication is a process that takes time. You may have to try different drugs and doses before you find the right one. Be patient. It can take weeks or months before a medication starts working.

The doctor may suggest medication and psychotherapy. Research shows it works better than medication alone.

Social Support

A strong network of friends, family, and health care professionals is key to managing your mental health.

You may avoid social situations because you’re worried about people looking at you and noticing your symptoms. But this often backfires. Withdrawing from social situations can make you feel worse and lead to depression.

Try to be active. Stay in the loop with friends and family. Get involved with organizations, clubs, teams, or faith groups in your area. Being part of a community helps you feel a sense of normalcy and see your life as more than Parkinson’s.

Support Groups

Consider joining a support group, where you can connect with others in a similar situation, learn about living with Parkinson’s, share insights, be social, and feel understood and less isolated.

To find a nearby support group, talk to your neurologist or a member of their staff. Local hospitals may have lists of nearby groups. Your newspaper may list support groups in your area. Call the Parkinson’s Foundation helpline at 800-4PD-INFO (800-473-4636). Visit websites of organizations like the Parkinson’s Foundation and the American Parkinson Disease Association, where you can search your area for groups.

You can also join an online support group. Many Parkinson’s websites, groups, and forums have places where you can connect with others and share information and inspiration. Look for groups on national or local Parkinson’s foundation websites, on social media platforms like Facebook, or ask your doctor for suggestions.

You can choose from small groups, large groups, informal groups, or formal meetups. Keep looking until you find one that’s right for you, or consider starting your own group.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy choices can help you manage your mental health. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy diet. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Find time to relax and do the things you enjoy, like reading or listening to music. Try relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, meditation, or massage.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Depression and Anxiety in Parkinson’s Disease.”

American Parkinson Disease Association: “APDA in Your Community,” “How Might Parkinson’s Affect Your Mental Health?”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research: “Ask the MD: Mental Health Professionals and your Parkinson’s Care Team,” “Support Groups.”

Parkinson’s Foundation: “Anxiety,” “Mood: A Mind Guide to Parkinson’s Disease.”

Parkinson’s UK: “Parkinson’s and Your Mental Health.”

University of Michigan Health: “Managing Anxiety and Depression in Parkinson’s Disease.”

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