CLEVELAND — More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease and doctors have said this population is particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic because of the mental health problems many patients already face.

What You Need To Know

  • Depression is an intrinsic part of Parkinson's disease

  • 50% of Parkinson's patients have depression and 25% are anxious, doctors say

  • Doctors are hoping to raise awareness in order to better treat patients

“About 50% of Parkinson’s patients are depressed. Only a few of them are because of a reaction to their physical disability. The vast majority of depression in Parkinson’s is intrinsic to the illness. A quarter of our patients are anxious about 10% of them have panic attacks," said Cleveland Clinic Neurologist Dr. Hubert Fernandez.

Fernandez recently published an editorial on this topic. He said these psychological symptoms can be more debilitating than the physical symptoms and that more resources need to go toward awareness for both patients and caregivers.

Sharon Desatnik had to end her 30-year career as a physical therapist because of her Parkinson's diagnosis in 2012.

“It affects everything that you do or don’t do because of the depression," she said. “I didn’t want to tell people I had it, and that lasted for about two years. I just told my close family and friends.”

As a physical therapist, Desatnik treated people with Parkinson’s but said she never knew depression was such a big part of the disease until she faced it herself.

“Education is everything. I just thought I was sad all the time, and I knew I didn’t have depression my first year because one of the health professionals wanted to get me into a research study for depression. I said, 'I’m not depressed. I’m angry.'”

Years later, she treats her depression with medication, exercise and a strong support system.

“I walk better than when I was diagnosed 10 years ago. I’m happier than when I was diagnosed 10 years ago and I’m very active.”

She attends group exercise classes for Parkinson's patients. When the pandemic hit, resources were less available, something that set back progress for many patients.

“Without the exercise and support, people got worse and I saw a lot more depression from my friends who came back.”

Desatnik said it all starts with awareness and encouraging people with Parkinson’s to speak up if they're experiencing depression.

“We can’t stop the disease but we can delay the disease," she said.