Migraines and Mental Health Concerns:  I’m Fighting a Losing Battle Alone

Cluster headaches are sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches” because of their persistent, painful nature; however, depression is a comorbid condition in all types of migraines, and suicidal ideation is among one of the greatest concerns for migraineurs.

Migraines are tricky. My patients tell me all the time that migraines interrupt their daily activities and significantly reduce their quality of life.  Unfortunately, migraines also rob some of them of their lives.

migraines and mental health

Migraines and Suicide Statistics

Some people will go to any extent to be free from the constancy and debility of migraines.  It’s not just a headache, and it often feels like you’re fighting an uphill battle on your own.  These thoughts often lead to severe depression, which then leads to suicidal thoughts.

While Harvard research shows thinking positively helps with migraine treatment, it doesn’t mean it’s an easy task.

Your first line of attack, though, is always to gather data.  Here are some statistics to keep in mind:

  • The entire body is affected by migraine, not just the head, including symptoms like:
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Stomach cramps
    • Diarrhea
    • Hallucinations
    • Partial blindness
    • Speech difficulty
    • Cognitive fogginess
    • Partial paralysis
    • Disrupted spatial awareness
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Suicide is more prevalent in the migraine population than in the general population
  • Those with more frequent severe migraines are more likely to consider suicide
  • Depression is a comorbid condition to migraine, with about 26% of bipolar patients complaining of migraine
  • Migraineurs with aura are more likely to have symptoms like:
    • Anxiety disorder
    • Severe, recurrent depression
    • Hypomania
  • Some anticonvulsants used to treat epilepsy and migraines have been linked to higher suicide rates. Migraine drugs linked to suicidal tendencies include:
    • Topamax (topiramate)
    • Neurontin (gabapentin)
    • Lamictal (lamotrigine)
    • Trileptal (oxcarbazepine)
    • Gabitril (tiagabine)

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What the Research Shows

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that more than 300,000 people with migraines, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and chronic pain were treated with one of 13 anticonvulsants.  After six months, 801 patients attempted suicide, and 26 of them committed the act.  None of the participants had a previous history of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

A study published in the journal, Headache, by Dr. Naomi Breslau at Michigan State University reported that migraineurs are more likely to attempt suicide than those in the general population.  In this study of 1200 adults in the Detroit area, 500 people had migraines, and 151 of them had severe non-migrainous headaches.

Patients were followed for two years.

Study Findings:

  • 9% of migraineurs admitted to attempting suicide
  • 10% of severe headache patients admitted to attempting suicide
  • 1% of study participants in the no headache or migraine group attempted suicide
  • Migraine and chronic headache sufferers are 4 to 6 times more likely to try to kill themselves than those in the non-pain comparison group

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There may be a biological connection to the migraines and suicidality, according to the researchers.  Dr. Breslau stresses the importance of monitoring mood and behavior in migraineurs, and it would be prudent to create action and safety plans for high-risk patients.

New Treatments

There is some hope for treatment, of course.  Let’s not immediately jump to dangerous pharmaceuticals, but instead gather all the data in one place.  Here are some treatments that should help migraineurs with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and they are all linked to further reading and education:

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If you or someone you know is in a suicide crisis or emotional distress, please know you have a lifeline.  There is always someone to talk to: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Migraines are insidious, debilitating, and often linked to comorbid conditions and brain dysfunctions; however, that doesn’t and will never mean that there is no hope for you.  You are not as alone as you feel.  There is always a way to higher quality living.  The research reminds us not to put all our eggs in one basket.  Don’t rely solely on pharmaceutical medications to save you from migraines, when they are likely to lead to further deterioration.  Go for gold, and treat your entire body, including your mind and spirit as well.  It’s time for meaningful and widespread healing.

Sources:

  1. Migravent – Migraine Statistics
  2. Reuters – Migraine and Suicide Study

 

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