If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know firsthand how debilitating it can be. Be they chronic or episodic, migraines can leave you out of commission for days at a time. Unfortunately, the cause of this condition can be hard to pin down, making attempts at prevention a challenge.
Recent research has illuminated a connection between migraines and mental health. This link may help those suffering from the condition identify a potential cause. With this understanding, they can better manage the cycle of pain. Here’s how mental health can influence migraines and vice versa.
Understanding Migraines and Their Impact
Migraines are common neurological conditions consisting of a variety of symptoms, the most significant being a severe pulsing headache. Migraine pain differs from that of a tension headache in that it typically affects one side of the head. Other symptoms may include:
- Sensitivity to light
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sweating or chills
Some people who suffer from migraines may experience an aura just before the headache begins. Auras are characterized by sensory disturbances, often affecting the vision, such as:
- Blind spots
- Seeing flashing dots, sparkles or wavy lines
- Temporary loss of vision
- Skin tingling or numbness
- Ringing in the ears
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble speaking
Aura symptoms typically appear anywhere between 10-60 minutes before the headache, meaning they act as a warning system for the pain. Once the migraine has begun in full, the pain can last up to several days, but it may subside in as little as a few hours. Lights, smells, sounds and movement can all exacerbate the migraine, leaving you unable to perform basic activities without severe discomfort.
Because migraines are so disruptive, identifying your triggers is crucial for preventing recurring episodes. While causes differ from person to person, certain factors have been known to increase your risk of experiencing a migraine. For example, hormonal changes, low blood sugar, lack of sleep, bright lights and stress can all make you more susceptible. In recent years, researchers have found other factors that may lead to a higher number of migraines: mental health disorders.
The Bidirectional Relationship Between Migraines and Mental Health
Migraines and mental illness are now known to have what’s called a bidirectional relationship — in other words, having one increases your risk of having the other.
This correlation applies to a wide range of mental disorders. A 2022 study concluded that those who have migraines are three times more likely to suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder than the general public. Other research found that the risk of depression was 30% higher for those who experienced migraines and that depression itself doubled the chance of suffering from the neurological condition. Similar findings have been found for anxiety: Migraineurs are 25 times more likely to feel anxious on a regular basis. For some, mental illness symptoms may flare after a migraine, such as with post-migraine depression.
While research strongly suggests a link between migraines and mental health disorders, the cause-and-effect relationship is much less clear. Evidence shows that conditions like depression correlate with an increase in migraine frequency. However, migraine treatment (such as medication) doesn’t directly result in an improved mental state.
For this reason, experts have come to the conclusion that the connection is bidirectional. It’s likely that experiencing either migraines or a mental health disorder will put you at greater risk of the other condition. Whether this relationship is caused by environmental or genetic factors is still unclear, but it does give those with migraines the chance to better understand their condition. Unfortunately, experiencing both migraines and mental health disorders can make it difficult to find ways to cope with — and prevent — severe pain.
Coping Strategies for Migraine-Related Mental Health Challenges
Turning to a health care professional is the natural next step for those suffering from migraine-related mental disorders. But beyond this, there are some lifestyle changes that may help you cope with these comorbidities.
If you have a mental disorder, it’s important to make sure the lifestyle changes you make to prevent migraines don’t exacerbate your other condition. Things like eating a healthy diet with lots of whole foods and getting enough sleep each night can both lower your migraine risk and stave off the effects of anxiety or depression. If you can, cutting out things that trigger your stress response is also an effective strategy.
When you feel overwhelmed, stepping away to a quiet room can give you space to calm down and gather the strength to handle a stressful situation. Practicing yoga and meditation regularly may also help you cope with unavoidable triggers. When you feel a migraine coming on, massaging your scalp or applying a cold compress to the back of your neck can provide some relief.
While migraines may leave you unable to participate in regular activities, isolating yourself all the time can exacerbate a mental disorder. Try to engage with friends or family often, even if just for a short time. Therapy is also a useful outlet that can give you a safe space to discuss troubling issues before they have a negative effect on your mental health. In caring for yourself mentally, you may be able to reduce the impact of your mental disorder, lowering your risk of migraines overall.
Seeking Comprehensive Care for Migraines and Mental Health Wellness
For many, migraines and mental health disorders are interconnected. When it comes to treatment, comprehensive care is necessary to address both conditions at once.
At FHE Health, we offer extensive rehabilitation programs for those suffering from mental health disorders. Whether it’s depression, anxiety or PTSD, we have the resources and talented staff needed to help you get back on track. With residential and outpatient care options, we’ll work with you to identify the care that will work best.
Feeling unable to control a migraine or mental health disorder can be scary. But with the dedicated FHE Health team by your side, you’ll finally find the support you’ve been looking for. Reach out today to get started.