Parkinson's disease

15 August 2014

Robin William's plagued by Parkinson's and depression

Did a recent diagnosis of Parkinson's combined with his long battle with depression push Robin William's over the edge?


Beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams is said to have been suffering from Parkinson’s at the time of his death, which may be linked to his long battle with depression.

In a statement to the press on the 14th of August, Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider revealed that her husband had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis that he was not yet ready to reveal to the world.

Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that causes a decrease in dopamine-producing brain cells, is three times more likely to develop in persons suffering from depression, according to research conducted by the Taipei Veterans General Hospital.  The 2013 study also revealed that people suffering from depression during old age are at an even higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Read: Robin Williams died of asphyxia by hanging

This is caused by the effect of Parkinson’s on areas of the brain responsible for mood control. The disorder affects the area of the brain responsible for serotonin production. Furthermore, reduced dopamine levels associated with Parkinson’s affect the synthesis of norepinephrine in the brain. Decreased serotonin and norepinephrine are both directly related to depression.

Living with depression and Parkinson’s

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), suffering from both depression and Parkinson’s disorder can make the symptoms of each condition worse. Many symptoms of the two conditions overlap, making it difficult for both medical professionals and loved ones to ascertain whether or not the sufferer may be depressed. Because of this, depression often goes undiagnosed, untreated and may severely affect quality of life.

Read: Depression may precede Parkinson's

Sufferers of both disorders may have greater difficulty with movement and experience elevated levels of anxiety.  Other symptoms include pessimism, irritability, increased tiredness and a lack of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed.

Whilst these symptoms may seem dire, effective treatment in the form of antidepressant medications is available.

Did Parkinson’s cause Robin Williams to commit suicide?

Studies show that while Parkinson’s sufferers are more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts, the actual suicide rate amongst people Parkinson’s is extremely low, lower even than the general population.

Read: Sex and gambling linked to Parkinson's

Whilst Parkinson’s cannot be the sole cause of Robin Williams’ suicide, it may have been a contributing factor.

Dr. Jeff Bronstein, a professor of neurology at the University of California, has stated that the fact that Parkinson’s can exacerbate depression, coupled with the fact that the actor had received a difficult, life-changing diagnosis may have created the “perfect storm” that resulted in his suicide.

Read more:
Depression in the elderly
Teenage suicide is higher when unemployment is up
Warning signs of suicide

Sources:; Channel24; CBS Los Angeles; NBC News; NIMH;; Medical News Today; WebMD; Wikipedia


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