When migraine strikes, it can mean days of excruciating head pain combined with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound for those affected. The World Health Organization considers migraine to be one of the top 10 most disabling illnesses, affecting a significant number of people — nearly 40 million in the U.S. alone. In addition to pain and suffering, migraine can also cause anxiety and stress for more than 90 percent of people who cannot work or function normally during an attack. In fact, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are the most common secondary health conditions affecting those with migraine. Clinical studies show that depression is almost twice as common and anxiety disorders are two to five times more prevalent in people with migraine than in those without migraine.1
New Survey Supports Link
The 2022 Migraine and Mental Health Connection Survey was conducted by the American Migraine Foundation with support from Biohaven Pharmaceuticals to better understand migraine, its impact on mental health and how people with migraine (PwM) and their healthcare professionals (HCPs) view the relationship between migraine and mental health. The survey, which included 1,100 PwM and 302 healthcare professionals (HCPs), including neurologists, headache specialists and primary care physicians, found that both PwM and HCPs agree that those who are better able to successfully manage their stress and mental health conditions are also better able to manage migraine. Likewise, almost all PwM and HCPs believe the unpredictable and disabling nature of migraine attacks often create worry and anxiety that can make managing migraine more difficult and further impact mental health.
Judy Ho, Ph.D., triple board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and former co-host of The Doctors, notes, “Many of my patients feel hopeless and powerless because of migraine. For some, talking about something stressful or anticipating a stressful event can trigger a migraine attack. I educate them about the important connection between the body and the mind and encourage them to do what’s needed to manage both their migraine symptoms and their mental health symptoms, as they often influence one another.”
Conversations Around Migraine and Mental Health
The survey found interesting differences in perspectives between PwM and physicians. The majority of PwM recognize the importance of talking with their physician about mental health but feel worried to bring it up and wish their doctors would initiate the conversation. Less than half of physicians surveyed were aware of this concern. They also appear to underestimate the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders in PwM. Although more than half of the PwM surveyed had a mental health diagnosis, physicians estimated these conditions occurred in less than one-third of their patients with migraine.
An important step in bridging the gap and improving outcomes is initiating more in-depth conversations between patients and their doctors. The majority of both PwM and HCPs agree that mental health benefits from improved migraine control and that those who are better able to manage their stress and mental health conditions are also better able to manage migraine. Further, PwM want their doctors to factor in mental health as a priority when treating them. The majority of both groups agree that migraine management needs to be customized to each patient’s individual needs.
“Closing the gaps in communication between healthcare professionals and their patients can help improve migraine and mental health management,” said Larry Newman, M.D., professor of neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and chair of AMF. “I hope that the findings of this survey encourage HCPs and people with migraine to feel empowered to speak out about their pain and to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about migraine and mental health.”
For more information on migraine and its impact on mental health, visit www.americanmigrainefoundation.org.
This survey was funded by Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company Ltd.
- Migraine Buddy. 2020 mental health x migraine survey: what we know. https://migrainebuddy.com/mental-health-migraine-survey-2020/ Accessed Sep. 8, 2021.