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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (6)
  • youkayn00b
    4 years ago

    thank you for bringing this to the forefront. i have been suicidal before after multi-day migraine episodes. hope feels lost when the pain just won’t stop. this article made me feel a bit more normal.

    i have tried many, many treatments – but not all. this article is also a kick in the pants for me to seek new treatments again after pregnancy.

  • SunupShutterbug
    4 years ago

    My heart goes out to you all. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jacqui Gallo
    4 years ago

    Mental issues are something EVERYONE should become aware and knowledgeable about. It seems to be an issue people are embarassed about or uneducated. That’s a deadly combination. Strength comes from education, either in helping yourself or another. I beg for all to ask for help when needed and keep asking if you are not heard. My sister didn’t get help right away. It took a third party to step in to show the professionals that she was serious and didn’t just need to “work out more” or “have a drink” to relax. Those were honest comments made to her by professionals. So I again say, if u need help, ask. And if for some reason you are not heard, say it again, LOUDER. Help is available, sometimes it’s just not as handy as it should be. As migraine sufferers, we know that sometimes it takes more than once to get help. I hope that some day asking for mental help and getting mental help is easy as typing a comment on your favorite website.

  • Lisa Frei
    4 years ago

    My 17 yr. old son took his life Feb.3rd 2014 after fighting migraines for one and a half years. Countless trips to many doctors and many tests. Many drugs and treatments tried, botox infusions, shots and countless different drugs. His attacks would last 3 -5 days with only a 1 or 2 day break. He was failing in school as he could not get there very often and if we could get the migraine under control he would be to drugged to study. He gave up his sports and social life. We were to go to Mayo Clinic on the 10th of Feb. His neurologist told him we would be wasting our time and money to go there as they would not help him. That I believe was the final straw. We had waited 3 months to get in to Mayo. I wish he could have had some hope that we could find help.

  • susanhayes
    3 years ago

    Oh my god, I am so so sorry about your son. I can relate to the utter hopelessness though. After trying so many different treatments and meds, my headache specialist are kind of at a loss. They can’t understand why my migraines are so resistant to treatment. Believe me, suicide has crossed my mind several times. But it has also crossed my mind before I ever got migraines because I’ve always suffered from depression. It’s pretty bad when one of the best headache treatment centers at Cleveland Clinic is having trouble helping you.

  • anessa
    4 years ago

    My brother’s nephew (15 years old) committed suicide because of chronic migraines and the side effects. I never heard the statistics before relating to panic disorder and migraines. Things make so much more sense after subscribing to and reading this newsletter. Thanks!

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