On top of his personal battles with anxiety and depression, the wife of the late comedian and actor Robin Williams has now revealed that he was also dealing with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Until now statements from Williams’ family and representative have stated only that he was dealing with depression.
Although Robin Williams had struggled with substance abuse in his past, wife Susan Schneider wrote in her statement that her husband had been sober in the time before his death. She characterized his struggles with anxiety, depression and, lately, the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, as “brave.” The condition of Parkinson’s was not one he was yet ready to reveal publicly, she wrote, continuing that she and her family hoped that her husband’s passing will help others dealing with “whatever battles they are facing” to seek support and care.
Social media and major media have been alight since the legendary performer, 63, was found dead from an apparent suicide in his Tiburon California home on Monday. Known for a bursting-with-joy comedic style, the question of “why” has been asked by many. Today’s new information may provide a clue toward a fuller answer. Some have speculated that Williams’ diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease may have caused his depression or, perhaps, it added to the depression he had dealt with for decades. A suicide note, if any, has not been released.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder that degenerates the central nervous system. Diagnosed mostly in people above the age of 50, those who suffer with the disease do not produce enough of the biochemical compound dopamine in their brains. Nerve cells in the brain are attacked, resulting in trembling arms, hands, face and legs. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include coordination problems, a general slowness of movement due to stiff muscles and difficulty doing simple motor tasks. Sleep and emotional difficulties are also common.
Major depression and Parkinson’s disease have often been noted to exist side by side and, when this happens, one can make the other worse. Anxiety can deepen, for example. Perhaps significant to Robin Williams – who was almost mythical for his mental agility – another common result is that the ability to concentrate can decline precipitously.
One medication that is used to treat Parkinson’s, ropinirole, assists in stimulating the brain’s dopamine receptors. Ropinirole is used by people with early stage Parkinson’s disease but also, when traditional medications have not been effective, for depression. It is not known at this time how long it had been since the comic-actor first received his Parkinson’s diagnosis but a logical question now is whether this specific medication had been suggested as a treatment option.
No one but Robin Williams himself could know the demons he dealt with. Having already lived through major depression as well as substance abuse, one can only imagine what he felt upon hearing his diagnosis. Writing about Williams, psychiatrist and author Keith Ablow stressed that ” … it’s so important in these cases to deploy treatment strategies that work – and work fast.” Other notable celebrities who have been public about their battle with Parkinson’s disease include Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox.
By Gregory Baskin