Migraine and Suicide Risk: Know the Facts, Get Help
Mental health isn’t something we talk about much in our culture, unless it’s in the wake of a celebrity death, like Robin Williams’, or a large-scale tragedy, such as the Isla Vista shootings. Despite our communal silence, however, many of us struggle with mental illnesses on a regular basis, especially those of us with other chronic conditions like migraine.
In fact, migraineurs as a group experience major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia twice as often as people without migraine. Chronic migraineurs are even more likely to experience depression and anxiety than are other migraine patients. Some studies indicate the incidence of major depressive and anxiety disorders in migraineurs is as much as five times that of people without migraine.
According to researchers, approximately 1 in 2 migraineurs has an anxiety disorder and at least 1 in 4 suffers from major depressive disorder. Not everyone who suffers from symptoms has been diagnosed, however, and the rate of depression in migraineurs is likely far higher than 25%. A 2008 survey conducted by the National Headache Foundation, for example, found that approximately 80% of migraine responders experienced symptoms of depression. (One reason for the disparity in experience and diagnosis may be that many migraineurs don’t know what depression really looks like, and thus don’t mention their symptoms to their doctors.)
As migraineurs, we deal, often on a daily basis, with severe pain, nausea, fatigue, and a host of other symptoms. We also experience intense feelings of isolation, guilt, and hopelessness. Is it any wonder then that so many of us, at least once, have thought we just couldn’t take it anymore? (Migraine.com writer Kerrie Smyres wrote an incredibly honest piece about this in 2012.)
Despite what you might have heard, migraine does kill, occasionally via stroke, but much more often via suicide.
In fact, migraineurs with mental health comorbidities are three times as likely to attempt suicide than are people without migraine. Migraineurs who experience aura also are at increased risk of suicide, according to researchers, even without comorbid depression or other mental health problems.
You don’t have to experience aura or a mental illness in order to be at risk, however. Chronic migraine also has been tied to an elevated suicide risk, independent of any mental health problems. There also is some speculation among researchers that several of the medications used to treat migraine, such as certain anticonvulsant drugs, may be increasing suicidal tendencies in migraine patients. If you begin taking any medication or supplement and experience mood changes or suicidal thoughts, please tell your doctor right away. Treating your migraine shouldn’t put you at an increased risk of death.
If you’re considering suicide, please know you’re not alone and please don’t keep it to yourself. Many of us have been where you are, often because of our migraine disease. There is a way out, but you have to talk to someone: a loved one, a close friend, or someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (There’s someone on staff 24/7 to answer calls at the lifeline; just dial 1-800-273-8255.) Please get help. Hopelessness doesn’t last forever, and a life with migraine can still be a life worth living.
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