Migraine and Mental Health: The Power in Awareness
Migraine and mental health are both deserving of time and in need of awareness. The American Migraine Foundation says they have something in common and that is that they are invisible diseases. This makes them easier to overlook but does not make them any less real. As a person living with chronic migraines, my heart goes out to anyone living with migraines or mental illness. We have to support each other and I want everyone to know that this is not a road to travel alone. There are people who care and understand.
What is the Relationship Between Migraines and Mental Illness or Comorbidities?
According to the National Library of Medicine, people with migraines are twice as likely to report mental illness than those without. They go on to say, “Managing one often means managing both.” This makes perfect sense as it is hard to address one thing without taking care of another. We can see this in many areas of life. According to the American Migraine Foundation, people with migraines are five times more likely to experience depression than those without.” This means we need to be talking about it.
How are migraines and sleep related? Is there a reason I wake up with a migraine?
The National Library of Medicine explains that a sleep disorder can be associated with more chronic and severe migraine attacks. Furthermore, sleep disturbance and snoring are risk factors for chronification. Sleep disorders associated with migraine include sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. Insomnia is the most common. Getting tested for sleep apnea is on my list. Sometimes finding answers can bring some healing. I have many triggers and migraines can be complex. However, I believe in a holistic approach.
What role do doctors play? What about the patient?
The reality of the impact makes migraine and mental illness something we cannot ignore. Our doctors must care and look out for the whole patient. We have got to communicate all that is happening in our lives and to our bodies with our healthcare providers. If they don’t know, they cannot help. As patients, we must advocate for ourselves. This means sharing all symptoms with your doctor. They need to know how migraines or any other conditions or diseases are affecting your life. Share your story. Don’t let stigma or fear get in your way. The numbers tell you that you are not alone. Know that your doctor is caring for many people that are in your shoes and they want to help you. If you find yourself with a physician you don’t feel is meeting your needs, it is time to move on. There are amazing doctors out there. They can be a big part of your team and a lifeline.
How Do We Support and Treat People Living with These Diseases?
There are many migraine medications and treatments out there today. These include both medications and holistic approaches. Some medications treat migraine that target serotonin receptors in the brain. These are the triptans, which are a largely used group of medications. The National Library of Medicine goes on to say, ‘that the serotonin helps regulate the relationship between migraine and mental health.’
Another treatment option is Biofeedback. This can be used to measure stress levels and to allow people to discover the cause of their stress. This could lead to better management of stress, which can be a major trigger of migraine attacks. The American Migraine Association reports that biofeedback combined with medication could reduce migraine attacks by 70%. If this works for you, that would be fantastic. Each person has to find what is effective for them on their migraine journey.
Does every person with migraines have a mental illness or additional condition?
This is an important question to answer as well. While we have seen that migraine and mental health have a clear relationship that does not mean that if you have migraine you also have a mental health disease. It means that you should communicate symptoms to your doctor and know that your well-being is important. Migraines can cause stress in life and ironically stress can also be a trigger for migraine attacks. However, that does not mean that if stress is a trigger for you, you have a mental illness. If you do have a concern, talk to your doctor. They can help you sort things out. Regardless of the findings, stress management can always be helpful. There are many strategies for this.
Is there hope for people living with these diseases?
For me, migraines are the center of the world I have to maintain as I navigate and appreciate the life I live. I know people who live with both migraines and anxiety or depression. For them, they must be consistent with their doctor visits, medication, and listening to their bodies. They can live full lives. You can be a parent, a valuable employee, and a good friend with all of these conditions. You just need to remember that who you are is a person with whichever disease you have. You aren’t the disease. It is a part of you, but it isn’t your whole story. Perhaps it makes you more empathetic, courageous, or even thankful.
American Migraine Foundation. (2023, January 13). The relationship between migraine and mental health. American Migraine Foundation. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/the-relationship-between-migraine-and-mental-health/
Antonaci, F., Nappi, G., Galli, F., Manzoni, G. C., Calabresi, P., & Costa, A. (2011). Migraine and psychiatric comorbidity: a review of clinical findings. The journal of headache and pain, 12(2), 115–125. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10194-010-0282-4
Buse DC, Greisman JD, Baigi K, Lipton RB. Migraine Progression: A Systematic Review. Headache. 2019 Mar;59(3):306-338. doi: 10.1111/head.13459. Epub 2018 Dec 27. PMID: 30589090.