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Press Releases

Understanding Suicide and Parkinsonís Disease: PDF Response to Questions Regarding Suicide Risk and Medications for Parkinson's

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF), has been alerted to questions surrounding the impact of medications used to treat Parkinson's disease (PD) on risk of suicide. Such concerns have been raised on social media in reaction to the news that Robin Williams, well known actor and comedian, was living with Parkinson’s disease

This has, in turn, raised many concerns amongst people living with PD and their families. PDF would like to address your concerns with the facts below. We also encourage community members with questions about suicide and PD to contact our HelpLine at (800) 457-6676 or info@pdf.org.

  • Research, although limited, has consistently shown that suicide rates for people with Parkinson’s disease are the same if not significantly lower (up to 10 times lower, according to a study found here) than the rates for the general population.
  • A person newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is typically prescribed medication that falls under one of three main classes: levodopa (to help supplement the dopamine that is lost), MAO-B inhibitors (which keep dopamine from breaking down), or dopamine agonists (drugs that mimic the action of dopamine).  All three classes of medications have a very safe profile with limited side effects, with no evidence linking them to suicide risk.  Dopamine agonists infrequently can lead to the development of an impulse control disorder, e.g., compulsive shopping, gambling, eating or sexual behavior.  However, these side effects are well documented, are pleasure seeking, and suicide is not one of them. In fact, dopamine agonists have a documented antidepressant effect. 
  • If people with PD or loved ones notice the signs of depression (listed below), please contact a health care professional.

"Although a Parkinson’s diagnosis is full of doom and gloom, it is, fortunately, more gloom than doom,” added James Beck, Ph.D., PDF’s Vice President, Scientific Affairs. “People are more likely to face depression than to commit suicide. Awareness of depression and Parkinson’s, combined with prompt treatment can help go a long way to alleviate that gloom.”

10 Signs of Depression in Parkinson’s

  1. Excessive worrying
  2. Persistent sadness
  3. Crying
  4. Loss of interest in usual activities and hobbies
  5. Increased fatigue and lack of energy
  6. Feelings of guilt
  7. Loss of motivation
  8. Complaints of aches and pains
  9. Feelings of being a burden to loved ones
  10. Ruminations about disability, death and dying

Learn More

The community is invited to browse PDF’s free educational resources below.

Read Fact Sheet: Understanding Parkinson’s Medications 

Read Fact Sheet: Depression in PD 

Source Date: Aug 20 2014