Suicidal Thinking

If you have reason to believe someone is in imminent danger, call 911.

Suicide is unfortunately a common occurrence in Huntington’s disease. It is estimated that half of people who are gene positive for HD experience suicidal thoughts during their lifetime. About a quarter of people act on their thoughts and make a suicide attempt. Tragically, 10% of people with HD successfully take their own lives. These are sobering facts, but knowing about suicide risk in HD can help people with HD and their loved ones talk openly about this complication, and prepare safety plans to prevent suicidal or high-risk behavior.

There are reasons that suicide is common in HD:

  • People with neurological diseases have depression more than others because of interrupted brain circuits.
  • People with HD may be reluctant to talk about their thoughts for fear of frightening their loved ones, especially their children
  • People are reluctant to talk about their thoughts for fear no one will take them seriously
  • Many feel shame or stigmatized about having symptoms of mental illness
  • Some families see HD as such a devastating disease that suicide is accepted as a reasonable alternative to the deeply feared future
  • There may not be readily available resources at times of crisis Physicians and other health care personnel may not be educated about the high risk times for suicide in HD, or how to handle this problem

Risk factors for suicide:

  • Single
  • Advanced Age
  • Prior attempt
  • Alcohol Use
  • Family history of suicide
  • Weapons
  • Prior
  • Impulsivity
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic pain

Stage of illness of highest risk:

  • When the gene positive person begins to have mild motor symptoms but before there is a formal diagnosis of HD
  • When the person with HD begins to lose independence, the transition from Stage 1 to Stage 2 HD

What can you do to reduce suicide risk?

Don’t just worry about your loved one- Talk about it! One of the most important things families can do for people at high risk of attempting suicide is to talk openly about the value of the person’s life

  • Questioning someone about suicidal thoughts does not increase
    suicidal risk!
  • People want to talk about these thoughts and appreciate your concern
  • Ask about the person’s thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way.
  • Let the person know how much he or she means to you. Tell the person with HD some thing each day that makes you feel grateful that he or she is in
    your life.
  • Help the person with HD say or write down three things each day they are grateful happened that day. People who scan their day for the positive are generally happier than people who don’t.
  • Remind the person with HD how hard it will be for you to live with losing him or her to suicide.
  • The fact is that no one really knows for certain what happens after death; things might be better, but things might be worse too. Suicidal people need to be reminded of this fact.

Reduce Access: Another thing you can do is to reduce access to means of committing suicide. Anything you can do to increase the time from impulse to action increases the opportunity for a suicidal person to change his or her mind.

  • Remove weapons from the home. HD Reach recommends that HD families do not keep firearms in their homes. The risk of harm from weapons in the HD home is greater than the risk from intruders. Law enforcement can come to your home and search for weapons and ammunition for you if you want to be certain it has not been hidden.
  • If you absolutely must keep a firearm, keep ammunition in a separate place preferably under lock and key.
  • Reduce the availability of medicine for overdose. Fill a pillbox daily, and keep medication bottles under lock and key elsewhere. Ask the doctor if the medications the person is taking could be lethal in the event of an overdose.
  • Hide the car keys. Dismantle the car; Have the car “stolen”.
  • Avoid places that remind the person of their suicidal ideas. If he has thought about jumping off a bridge, stay away from bridges. If she has thoughts about shooting herself, don’t watch television shows that include gun violence.
  • CLICK HERE    to see a list of crisis center phone numbers for North Carolina counties.
  • Call a national 24/7 suicide hotline:
    1-800-SUICIDE
    1-800-273-TALK