Suicidal thoughts are oftentimes at their highest during stage 3 of HD. It’s estimated 50% of people who are gene positive for HD experience suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. A quarter of that population will act on their thoughts and make a suicide attempt. Tragically, 10% of people with HD commit suicide. Knowing the warning signs and how to reduce risk can help prepare safety plans and talk openly about this difficult time.
First, let’s look at some of the reasons why suicide is so common in patients who have HD:
HD patients are more prone to depression.
HD patients may be reluctant to talk about their thoughts openly so they don’t frighten family members or their children.
HD patients may feel shame or as if they have a stigma because they have symptoms of a mental illness.
HD patients may have family members who view, and he or she may personally view, suicide as a reasonable alternative out of fear for the future.
HD patients may not have access to helpful resources or healthcare professionals during the time of crisis.
Heightened risk factors for suicide include being single, advanced age, a prior attempt, excessive alcohol use, a family history of suicide, access to weapons, impulsivity, panic attacks, and/or chronic pain.
There are helpful things you can do to help reduce the risk of suicide. Oftentimes talking about it and communicating openly is a great starting point. Never question someone about suicidal thoughts or put a person on the defensive. Ask a person about their thoughts in a non-judgmental way and let him or her know how much your relationship means. Encourage the person with HD to write down three things they are grateful for or three positive things that happened each day. This form of communication and dialogue should be ongoing and positive. After this method is established, evaluate and reduce access to any means possible of committing suicide. Remove weapons, the availability of medicine, and hide the car keys to reduce the chances of self-inflicted wounds or an overdose. Avoid any places that may be a trigger for suicidal thoughts—for instance, if someone has thought about jumping off a bridge, don’t drive near bridges and if that person has thoughts about shooting themselves, don’t watch TV shows with gun violence.
There is a list of helpful crisis centers in North Carolina counties or you can call a 24/7 national suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK for immediate help.