The Link Between Migraines and Suicide Risk

Every suicide is a tragedy that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. Almost half (47.2%) of the people who suffer from migraines with aura are at risk of suicidal ideation, and about 14% attempt it. If 1 billion people worldwide suffer from migraines and 1 in 5 of those people experience an aura, that means approximately 200,000,000 experience an aura, and close to 100,000,000 will consider suicide.

Those numbers are staggering, so to support those struggling with this problem, I will take a closer look at the link between migraines with aura and suicidality.  Before I get into the science, I would like to point out a couple of important notes. If you or someone you love is having or has had suicidal thoughts and attempts, you may want to keep the below information handy in those moments of need:

1.       The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is an excellent resource. There’s no judgment, and it’s completely confidential. 1-800-273-8255.

2.       Outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention aims to offer crisis support on all seven continents.

Recent Migraine-Suicide Research

In 2018, scientists from Johns Hopkins and Harvard set out to investigate the link between psychiatric disorders, migraines, and suicidal behaviors, such as talking about wanting to die or looking for ways to do it. They reviewed inpatient data from 156,172,826 hospitalizations between 2007 and 2012, of which 1.4% (about 2.2 million) were migraine patients. This is an extensive study compared to those in the past on the same topic.

Researchers found that migraine patients were more likely to have depression, PTSD, or anxiety than those without migraines. Further, migraine patients had more comorbid conditions than other patients as well.  After adjusting for age, income, year, sex, and race, the scientists noted that migraine patients were 2x more likely to demonstrate suicidal behaviors than those inpatients without migraines. 

To bring this information to a more recent light, a 2020 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that suicidal attempts and ideation were more prevalent in people with migraines than those in the general population outside a hospital setting. 

The Implications

We know that more women than men get migraines, but men are more likely to have suicidal ideation and attempts. Further, we know that young people in prime migraine years are at higher risk of suicide. Therefore, we can conclude that suicidality is a significant concern for every migraine patient, especially if you experience an aura or other comorbid (underlying) conditions. Migraineurs with more than 10-15 migraines per month may want to consider regular mental health screenings and develop a strategy to combat any possible occurrences. 

What to Do Next

If you are working to prevent suicide, there are several resources from the World Health Organization for specific people like teachers, home service providers, and administrators, to name a few.

If you find yourself in a hole of anxiety, depression, or other distress where suicidal thoughts start making their way into your everyday thinking, there is something you can do. First, take a few moments to look in a mirror and talk to yourself like you would your child or your best friend.  What would you say if someone you loved came to you with the feelings you’re having? How can you comfort them?

Now that we know the connection, it is time to act. You are worth the time and effort it takes to beat migraines, and you can banish the impostor of mental illness that comes with them. It is time to make a suicide safety plan for what to do when you forget why everything matters. 

Suicide is a difficult subject to write about, but I will end with this final note. You are never alone, even though it may feel that way. You have done nothing wrong, and there is no reason to feel shame. Mental illness can behave like cancer in that it can be deceptively quiet until it threatens your life. It can’t be wished away, and it cannot be cured. It can, however, be managed and forced into remission.

Please check out some of the articles on my blog. I focus on natural measures for migraineurs to get onto a path of better health.  

·         How Simple Movements Can Help Manage Life

·         Biofeedback Therapy May Help with migraines

·         Posttraumatic Headaches and How to Help

·         Are You Deficient in Vitamins and Hormones? Here’s how to fix it.

Additional Sources:

Frontiers in Neurology: Recent Evidence Regarding the Association Between Migraine and Suicidal Behaviors

AJMC: Study Summary: Link Between Migraine and Suicidal Behaviors

Journal of Affective Disorders: Prevalence of Suicidal Ideation and Suicide Attempt in Patients with Migraine