If there is a Link Between Migraines and Mental Health?

If there is a Link Between Migraines and Mental Health?  It is a well-known fact that strong Mental Health is the cornerstone of well-being and emotional balance. However, Migraines are stressful to our minds/bodies, ruin our social life, and affect Mental Health. Four different experts in Migraine and Mental Health kindly agreed to share their opinion about the Link Between Migraines and Mental Health and gave valuable advice on how to ease migraine pain and maintain positive mental health.

Kathleen O’Shea 

Kathleen J. O’Shea, Professor of English at Monroe Community College (Rochester, N.Y.) is a 43-year migraine sufferer, who has taken her passion for literature and her chronic illness to create So Much More than A Headache.  Understanding Migraine through Literature (Kent State University Press, 2020).  So much More than a Headache, edited and with personal reflections by Professor O’Shea, includes contributions from migraine sufferers from the medieval period through contemporary writers of fiction, drama, poetry, and essays. The book has a unique non-chronological approach, focusing, instead, on five principal themes around migraine: “The Experience,” “The Invisibility,” and the stigma in “It’s Just a Headache? , the time, energy, and frustration of finding helpful treatment in “It’s a Life-long, Full-time Job,” and the relief  and fear following a migraine attack, as well as the hopeful new migraine treatments in “When It’s Gone.”

As a migraine sufferer for 44 years, I have had to cope with not only the physical symptoms of living with a chronic disease but the psychological ones, as well. Every day seems to bring its own challenges; therefore, it’s critical that I, like all of us, seek ways to maintain my mental health and a positive frame of mind. As we all know, this is often easier said than done, but there are practices that inform my well-being – even in the midst of pain, frustrating trials of medications, insurance companies playing the roles of physicians, numerous doctor appointments, and just living with an invisible illness:

Mental Health and Migraines connection: If there is a Link between Migraines and Mental Health?

 1) Create a morning and night-time list of people and things for which you are grateful. Yes, some days this is easier to do than others. However, I find, that during a terrible migraine, I can feel my body loosen up as I go through the list in my mind. Even on the worst of days, perhaps someone, even a stranger, did me a small kindness, and one of my family members or friends reached out. If not, look out the window for wonder from nature and find gratitude and awe.

2) Find a poem or a photo that brings you peace and comfort. Yesterday, I was visiting my parents, and my mom looked at a canvas photo I had made for them of their beloved Irish Setter, Reilly, running along a creek at the campground where they spend their summers. She stopped me by the picture and said, “Every time I look at that, I feel calm, such peace and love.” Special photos have this impact, particularly when we need them. Find a companion poem that does the same for you. If you don’t think you like poetry, you just haven’t yet found the right poem! Explore some of the great poetry websites that are organized by topic.

3) Fight the urge to stay inside and, instead, get outside. If you are not near nature, find a park, and stay mindful of the trees, the smells, the birds, the sky, and any other wildlife you might experience. If you have dogs to walk, all the better! Pay attention to them, as they brighten up as even seeing the leash, lift their heads to smell the air, and focus on scents we can’t even smell.

4) Find a passion that brings you joy and an intrinsic reward. During a three-month intractable migraine four years ago, I was feeling helpless, alone, and finding it hard to work and function through the days. Then I started immersing myself in the literature about migraine, since as an English professor that’s what I turn to when trying to cope with crises or trauma in my life. What started as just reading turned into a driven need to write to share this literature with others. This project has brought immeasurable joy, the ability to block out anything else while working on it, and the internal relief and pleasure I get from seeing the help it has brought others.

5) Share kindness with others each day. Often, when in pain, we find ourselves turning inward, but if we practice gratitude, we can find a way to bring a simple comfort or goodness to someone we know—or maybe someone we don’t. The work is simple, and the benefits go to the other but also come back to you.

Many of these practices that have helped me try to find some sense of balance while living with a chronic illness tend to focus on the internal life, and that’s intentional because I know when in pain, focusing outside is more difficult. However, staying with them, and making conscious efforts, will lead to more peace, relief, and positive energy we so desperately need.

Judy Foreman


Judy Foreman is the author of A Nation in Pain (2014), The Global Pain Crisis (2017), and Exercise is Medicine (2020), all published by Oxford University Press, was a staff writer at the Boston Globe for 23 years and a health columnist for many of those years. Her column was syndicated in national and international outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Baltimore Sun and others.

Mental Health and Migraines connection: If there is a Link between Migraines and Mental Health?

What I CAN tell you is what I have in my two books on chronic pain (see title below) from Oxford University Press: Many studies have looked at the chicken-and-egg question of depression and chronic pain. There was a 2012 study from Boston showing that women who have had a history of migraines are 40 percent more likely than women without a history of migraines to develop depression. In other words, most of the time, depression FOLLOWS migraines and is not preceded by it. Basically, if you have both depression and migraine the answer is to treat both. Older style antidepressants like nortriptyline and others (Pamela Elavil, Norpramin) can treat both. So can some of the SSRIs ad SNRIs. SNRIs that treat both are Cymbalta, Effexor, and Savella.

Andrea Rosenhaft, LCSW-R

Andrea Rosenhaft is a licensed clinical social worker in the New York City area.  Andrea writes and blogs primarily on the topics of physical and mental health. She is the founder of the mental health consultation and insurance advocacy organization, BWellBStrong, which focuses its efforts on borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and major depressive disorder. She lives in Westchester, NY with her rescue dog Shelby.

Mental Health and Migraines connection: If there is a Link between Migraines and Mental Health?

Anxiety and depression are more common in individuals who experience migraine than in those who do not. Per the American Migraine Foundation about 20% of people with episodic migraine—headaches on fourteen or fewer days per month—may also have depression, and that number goes up as the number of headache attack days per month increases.
As to the link between mental health and migraines, the American Migraine Foundation states, “We think there might be some underlying reason, maybe a genetic reason, or the fact that both depression and migraine act off similar biochemicals in the brain and in the body that predisposes someone to have one, and then the second.”
People with migraine may be at even higher risk of anxiety. A 2017 study found that, compared to those without migraine, individuals with migraine described “Not being able to stop or control worrying” and having “trouble relaxing.”
The likelihood of depression and anxiety increases as the frequency of migraines increases. According to a study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, individuals with chronic migraine — which means experiencing headaches on fifteen or more days per month — are twice as likely to have depression and anxiety as those who experience what is known as episodic migraine — fewer than fifteen headaches per month.

Evan Parks, Psy.D.


Evan Parks, Psy.D., serves as an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and is on staff at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Evan is the author of Chronic Pain Rehabilitation: Active pain management that helps you get back to the life you love. Before joining the staff of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, he spent 15 years living in Budapest, Hungary traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia teaching principles of mental health and intervening in mental health crisis situations for humanitarian organizations.

What are 5 ways to maintain positive mental health?

1) There are three clear signs we are not doing well emotionally: 1. We are ineffective at solving life’s problems which interferes with our basic needs for connection, competence, and autonomy, 2. We experience emotional and mental chaos and feel controlled by thoughts, feelings, and circumstances, and 3. We react in inflexible, rigid ways to our distress. Our reactions make our relationships with others worse and do not solve the problems we are facing.

2) When we are healthy, we can maintain balance and stability under pressure and solve problems that get in the way of a healthy life. When the mind is balanced, we are focused on activities that bring meaning and purpose, we feel engaged in life, have rewarding relationships, and accomplish important tasks.

3) Maintaining emotional balance requires three core skills: 1. Noticing what is happening in the outside world around us (five senses), noticing our physical sensations, noticing our thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires, and noticing our connection with others, 2. Evaluate our thoughts, feelings, and desires, to determine if they are helpful or not, and 3. Choosing to act in ways that is consistent with what is important to us rather than react to our circumstances, thoughts, feelings, or sensations.

4) When we treat all of our thoughts and feelings as true, valid, and important, they control how we see ourselves, feel, and behave. But we have the ability to notice our thoughts and feeling, let go of what is not helpful, and choose to do what is important regardless of our past or current circumstances.

5) The only person whose behavior we can control is our own. All we can give or get from other people is information. How we deal with that information is our or their choice. We are not responsible for the unhappiness of others.

Triggers that can lead to migraine are anxiety, stress, lack of slip, or bad quality of sleep. Chronic pain itself is stressful to both your mind and body. Long-term stress can disrupt the balance of hormones and chemicals in your brain and nervous system, affecting your moods. In turn, stress may make migraine worse. Further, headaches that often interrupt your work, home, and social life can make you feel isolated and affect your mental health. And the stigma of chronic migraine can harm your self-esteem.




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