KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Prior to his death, Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement that Williams, who also suffered from anxiety and depression, was not ready to share his diagnosis with the rest of the world.
Another man with Parkinson’s lives in Prairie Village, Kan. His name? Jan Parkinson, and he was diagnosed nine years ago.
“They say God doesn’t have a sense of humor, well, you know, sometimes maybe he does,” he said referring to the fact he shares his last name with the disease.
When Jan heard about Williams’ diagnosis, he was a little concerned about how people would react.
“I thought that’s what people are going to think pushed him over the edge,” he said.
But Jan doesn’t think the diagnosis was the sole reason for Williams’ suicide.
“Robin Williams had depression, he had issues with addiction, he had a long and difficult struggle with all of those things, and I can see how something might be a tipping point, but I wouldn’t lay his suicide at the feet of Parkinson Disease,” he said.
Jane Ann Gorsky, executive director of the Heartland Chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation, said people who have a history of mental illness are more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“Another biological factor is the changes in the brain, and what is interesting is that the regions of the brain affected by PD are the same that are affected by depression,” she said.
Depression can also show up as a result of the diagnosis.
“At least 50 percent of Parkinson patients will experience depression during the length of their illness,” Gorsky said.
Common, Gorsky said because it is a terminal illness, meaning “long term, no cure.”
“So for a lot of people that can throw them into a psychological tailspin,” Gorsky said. “It’s not the death sentence, you can have a long and productive life.”
Which is what Jan had to learn after his diagnosis, and something he practices every day even when he doesn’t feel like it.
“Keep interested and keep yourself interesting,” he said. “Get involved in life anyway you can.”
The National Parkinson Foundation issued the following statement on Parkinson.org on Thursday. It read:
We have all been devastated by Robin Williams’ death. We are further saddened to hear that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. While a diagnosis of any serious disease can be overwhelming, Parkinson’s and depression can go hand in hand. According to a recent study conducted by The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF), more than half of those with the disease suffer from clinical depression, which is part of the disease process itself. Depression affects quality of life more than the motor impairments of the disease. NPF urges annual screening for depression as a critical part to treating Parkinson’s. Treatment for depression should include both medications and counseling. The National Parkinson Foundation encourages people living with Parkinson’s and their families to seek expert care from a neurologist. With support, both depression and Parkinson’s can be managed. Please call NPF’s toll-free Helpline today to learn the early warning signs of the disease and get support, 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).
For information and resources about Parkinson Disease available locally, go to parkinsonheartland.org, or call The National Parkinson Foundation Heartland office at 913-341-8828.