Depression is one of the common psychiatric syndromes related to Huntington’s Disease. It is often a syndrome that goes unrecognized and untreated.
While depression affects a significant number of people with HD (it is estimated at 40%), it is one of the most effectively treatable set of symptoms. Knowing the signs of depression is the first step in getting the appropriate help.
Depression can be a psychological reaction to a variety of life changes and stressors. This may include declining physical health, loss of work or career, decreased financial security, and a decline in mobility that affects keeping up with familiar and pleasurable activities and involvement.
Feeling depressed at times is a normal part of life, especially when confronted with such issues. In Huntington’s Disease, depression may also result from organic, neurological changes in the brain that actually contribute to changes in mood and behavior.
Both types of depression are usually treatable with conventional treatments, including psychotropic medications and psychotherapy.
Depression can affect your whole outlook on life, kind of like wearing dark, gray sunglasses that continually filter out any potential for pleasure and hope. The simplest task becomes a burden, and coping with routine responsibilities can seem like a monumental challenge and feel impossible to negotiate.
Some of the more common signs of depression:
- Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and/or tearfulness
- Changes in appetite (eating less or more than usual)
- Sleep disturbance (insomnia, early waking or sleeping too much)
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty initiating things that were once easier and pleasurable to do
- Tendency to isolate oneself
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Feelings of worthlessness
Depression can also affect family members, friends, and care providers who don’t have the gene, but are deeply affected by the variety of life changes and feelings that surface.
Frequently, the strong feelings that are experienced are a way of getting our attention – a wake up call. Ignoring these feelings can lead to physical and emotional distress.
You don’t have to succumb to depression or fight against it alone. There simply are times when your own resources just aren’t enough, and at these times the assistance of medical and mental health professionals are helpful.
If you suspect that you or a loved one have signs of depression, here are some helpful suggestions and resources:
Strategies for coping with depression:
- Consult with your doctor about medications that may be helpful in treating depression and also about possible mood-altering side-effects of medications that you are currently taking
- Try to maintain a routine – set your alarm clock daily and stick to a written routine (be sure to include a variety of pleasurable activities)
- Keep away from alcohol and recreational drugs – they make depression worse
- Get fresh air, sunlight, and exercise
- Eat wholesome foods and an adequate amount of calories
- Reach out to friends and relatives
- Join a support group
24 Hour Crisis Intervention Phone Lines (call directory assistance for the crisis line in your area) or call (888) SUICIDE
Understanding Behavior in Huntington’s Disease by Jane Paulsen, PhD
A Physician’s Guide to the Management of Huntington’s Disease