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Mood and Behavior Changes (Psychiatric)


Suicide is of great concern in the HD community because the rates are up to ten times the national average. Changes in a person with HD’s brain along with other risk factors (listed below) are important reasons for friends, family and medical providers to encourage open conversations about feelings around death and hopelessness.  

Suicidal thoughts are often 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, preparing, and talking openly can help reduce the risk. 

First, let’s look at some of the reasons why suicide is more common in people who have HD: 

  • More likely to have depression.

  • May not want to talk openly about their thoughts for fear of frightening family members or their children.

  • May feel shame or stigmas because they have symptoms of a mental illness.

  • May view or know people who view suicide as a reasonable alternative out of fear for the future.

  • Lack helpful people to talk to or healthcare professionals during the time of crisis.

Increased risk factors for suicide include:

  • Single

  • Advanced age

  • Attempted suicide in the past

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Family history of suicide

  • Access to weapons

  • Impulsive

  • Panic attacks

  • Chronic pain

Signs to Look for:

  • Depressed mood

  • Shared feelings of hopelessness

  • Prefers to be alone

  • Staying away from activities and avoiding family and friends

  • Acting more agitated

  • Sleep changes – sleeping a lot more or a lot less

  • Talking about death or about not being around

  • Talking about plans to commit suicide

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family and giving their things away

  • Sudden mood changes

There are helpful things you can do to help reduce the risk of suicide.


Talking about feelings and communicating openly is a great place to start. Never question someone about suicidal thoughts or put a person on the defensive. Ask about their thoughts in a non-judgmental way and let him or her know how important they are to you. Encourage the person with HD to write down three things they are grateful for or three positive things that happen each day. Keep your communication ongoing and positive. Talk to your family and caregivers about how they react to talk about suicide too. 


Be prepared to call a Suicide Prevention Hotline or 911 if you’re worried that someone might try to hurt themselves very soon. 

Reduce Access to Harmful Objects 

Look around and reduce access to any means of committing suicide. Remove weapons, rope, the availability of medicine that can be used in an overdose, hide the car keys if possible. 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. 


HD Reach offers therapy to help with anxiety, depression and trauma related to HD. HD Reach also provides referrals to other mental health counselors to best meet your needs. 

For immediate help call a 24/7 national suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.