Psychological & Emotional Symptoms

The psychological and emotional symptoms of Huntington’s disease are less predictable compared to physical and cognitive symptoms. The experience of mental health issues is not uncommon for individuals from Huntington’s families given the genetic nature of the disease and the subsequent psycho-social impacts on families across generations. Individuals with Huntington’s disease can experience specific personality and behavioural changes characterised by apathy, irritability, impulsivity, and obsession. These changes can initially be subtle and become more prominent as the disease progresses.

Please find below a description of some but not all of the mental health issues experienced by members of the Huntington’s community:

Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health disorders experienced by the general community. For individuals who are gene positive, “major depression is the most common symptom among pre-symptomatic HD carriers, although some will have only part of the symptoms of the major depression or limited in intensity or time. In addition, for individuals who are diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, mood disturbances such as impulsivity, anxiety, irritability are also prevalent.  

Motivation & Apathy

Apathy is the absence of motivation and goal directed activities. For individuals diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, apathy is associated with a decline of overall cognitive function. It is “one of the most prevalent neurobehavioral symptoms in Huntington’s disease (HD), occurring in approximately 70% of the symptomatic HD population“. Apathy has a considerable adverse effect as it leads to a decrease in motivation causing those who experience apathy to be often mistaken as being lazy or disinterested. 

Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour

Some individuals diagnosed with Huntington’s disease may experience obsessive compulsive behaviour. Not to be confused with perseveration, obsessive compulsive behaviour, is the persistent thoughts that lead to repetitious behaviours. Common examples of obsessive compulsive behaviour are repeatedly washing hands, frequently going to the toilet and concerns or fears about contamination.