Home Care and Treatment Migraines and Mental Health: Is There a Connection?

Migraines and Mental Health: Is There a Connection?


Headaches are a pain. They interfere with functioning in daily life and engaging with others. Migraines are worse. Every sound is amplified to a roar; dim light is as piercing as staring at the sun after standing in the dark; the pain is so intense that it can bring nausea and dizziness. Anyone who has experienced a migraine would gladly do anything to stop the pain.

Migraines are caused by changes in the nervous system (Migraine, 2017). The pain they cause can last for a few hours to a few days. Many times there are warning signs a few days before the onset of a migraine and progress through four stages (Migraine, 2017).

Phase One

The first phase is the prodrome stage. In this stage, there may be subtle changes in the body that signal the coming of a migraine. These changes can include constipation, mood changes, frequent yawning, food cravings and increased thirst and urination (Migraine, 2017).

Phase Two

The second phase is aura. An aura can occur alone before the migraine begins, or during the migraine. This phase is not very common, but it can include symptoms such as seeing shapes or flashes of light, temporary vision loss, feeling pinpricks in the hands and arms, hearing sounds or music or feeling weak in the limbs on one side of the body (Migraine, 2017). These symptoms can last 20 minutes to an hour.

Phase Three

The third stage is the attack. This is the stage of the classic migraine pain.

Phase Four

The final stage is the post-drome phase in which the person feels drained or weak for a few days after the attack (Migraine, 2017).

In the past few decades there has been a growing body of research that shows a relationship between migraines and mental health (Antonaci et al., 2011; Ratcliffe et al., 2009). Antonaci et al. reported that there is growing evidence that the presence of mental health conditions is a risk factor in transforming migraine headaches from periodic to chronic (2011). Many studies have found a significant association between migraines and lifetime major depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse or dependency (Ratcliffe et al., 2009). Other studies, while supporting the association between migraines, anxiety and depression, were not able to replicate the connection between migraine and drug and alcohol abuse (Antonaci et al., 2009).

A different study found “that recurrent brief depression, panic disorder, phobia and generalized anxiety were more frequent among individuals with migraines than among individuals with tension headache or no headache” (Ratcliffe et al., 2009).

Some research has found a link between migraine with aura and suicidal thoughts or attempts (Antonaci et al., 2011). “Similar findings were recently obtained in a sample of adolescents aged 13–15 years. A higher frequency of suicidal ideation was observed in younger adolescents with migraine with aura or with high frequency of attacks, these associations being independent of depressive symptoms” (Antonaci et al., 2011).

Anxiety typically precedes a migraine, while migraines precede depression (Antonaci et al., 2011; Ratcliffe et al., 2009). The comorbidity relationship is strengthened the longer a person has chronic migraine pain (Ratcliffe et al., 2009).

Though there is no definite explanation as to why anxiety and other mental health disorders are frequently comorbid with migraines, there are a few theories. First psychiatric disorders may cause migraines (Antonaci et al., 2011; Ratcliffe et al., 2009). Or it could be the other way around; migraines could influence the development of psychiatric disorder because of the presence of intense and long lasting pain (Antonaci et al., 2011). A third theory is that migraines and mental health disorders have shared etiological factors such as an improperly functioning gland or neurotransmitter, which causes both (Antonaci et al., 2011; Ratcliffe et al., 2009). It has been proposed that abnormalities in serotonin levels may play a role in both migraines and mental health issues (Ratcliffe et al., 2009).

Medication is a proven way to treat both migraines and mental health disorders. Those who suffer from either should talk with their healthcare provider about treatment options. There are also treatment options that can be done at home in conjunction with medication. Sleep is important in maintaining good mental health. It is also a method to help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks (Migraines, 2015). Make sure to establish a good pre-bedtime routine and have time to unwind before going to bed. Poor mental health and migraines are both triggered by a lack of sleep (Migraines, 2015). Moving to a calm environment can also be helpful at the first signs of a migraine (Migraines, 2015). A dark, cool room has been helpful to many people. Clam activities are also helpful for those who suffer from mental health disorders (Complementary).

Life can be challenging enough without migraines. Taking steps to relieve migraines and mental health disorders may help to improve the quality of life.


Antonaci, F., Nappi, G., Galli, F., Manzoni, G., Calabresi, P., & Costa, A. (2011). Migraine and psychiatric comorbidity: A review of clinical findings. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 12(2), 115-125. doi:10.1007/s10194-010-0282-4

Complementary & Alternative Treatments. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/complementary-alternative-treatment

Migraine. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/in-depth/migraines/art-20047242

Ratcliffe, G. E., Enns, M. W., Jacobi, F., Belick, S., & Sareen, J. (2009). The relationship between migraine and mental disorders in a population-based sample. General Hospital Psychiatry, 31(1), 14-19. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2008.09.006

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