Mental Health, News & Research, Treatment

Migraine Linked to Depression, Anxiety and Other Mental Disorders

People with migraine are likely to have mood disorders, like major depression, anxiety and panic attacks. This is according to a new study, which supports findings of previous studies that have also shown the coexistence, or comorbidity, of migraine and these disorders.

From the current study’s press release (emphasis mine):

Mood Disorders, Migraines Might Be Connected

Migraine headaches can precede the onset of mental disorders, according to a growing body of knowledge that includes a new study in the January-February 2009 issue of General Hospital Psychiatry.

Together, migraine and mental disorders cause more impairment than alone,” said lead study author Gregory Ratcliffe. “Patients who have one condition should be assessed for the other so they can be treated holistically. Although it is important to know that both are present, treating one will have an effect on the other.”

Ratcliffe is with the department of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba in Canada. He and his colleagues analyzed data on 4,181 participants in the German National Health Interview and Examination Survey. Migraines were diagnosed by a physician and trained interviewers evaluated participants for mental disorders.

Researchers found that 11 percent of participants had migraines. Participants had a variety of disorders: major depression, general anxiety disorder, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, panic disorder, substance abuse disorders, agoraphobia and simple phobia.

The authors considered two theories that might explain the relationship between migraine and mental disorders. The first theory is that a common factor influences both conditions, such as low activity of enzymes that deactivate certain chemical messages sent to the brain. They also considered a causal relationship: This study and others found that anxiety often precedes migraine, which often precedes depression.

Frederick Taylor, M.D., director of the Park Nicollet Headache Clinic in St. Louis Park, Minn., said that migraine co-morbidities — depression, anxiety and other disorders — affect 83 percent of migraineurs and explain 65 percent of their inability to function in life, more than the pain itself.

My bouts of depression show this is true for me. It is also true for other headache bloggers, like Diana from Somebody Heal Me. How about you?

45 thoughts on “Migraine Linked to Depression, Anxiety and Other Mental Disorders”

  1. I suffer from tension headaches which are always with me. I don’t take medication but exercise, do yoga and relaxation techniques.

  2. Like everyone else here I suffer with migraine. Mine’s twice a month to a varying degree of severity which coincides with the run up to my menstrual cycle and a couple of days after coupled with feeling blue which is hormonal.

    I am a bit confused with this claim because there are social factors to take into account with depression, drug dependency disorder etc.

    Is the research suggesting that migraine is a symptom of depression, anxiety etc?

  3. i have been in florida for 2 weeks and the sun is bright and i get auras without the pain of migraine. However after the auras are over there seems to be tired down depressed times. I am sitting here now feeling down and tired. I definitely think that migraine aura without pain definitely causes a down depressed feeling and anxiety

  4. I have headaches from time to time, unsure if those are actually migraines because most of the time they aren’t very severe… I definitely have migraine auras though…. They usually accompany a small headache and I usually take Tylenol with acetaminophen and it works… Migraines with aura suck and have caused my anxiety I believe… I feel bad for those of you who suffer from migraines with terrible headaches! My auras don’t cause terrible pain but when I start losing my vision, I get extremely anxious! It happens about once a month but can’t figure out what triggers them! It is always on my mind when I make plans that I might possibly get the migraine with aura! It ruins my day and makes me very anxious…. I definitely see a correlation between the two! What a curse :/

  5. I have just turned 15 . ive been diagnosed with migraines for a year but remember having attacks and syptoms for about 3 years until they got so bad i finally told my parents . its distressing having to deal with it by myself . noone in my family believes me . my mother tries to support me but while trying she usually just makes us fight which trigger a migraine attack for me . i have been taking amatryptalline but its leaving me feeling numb and slow . i just dont know what to do anymore :,(

    1. Don’t give up! There are many possible treatments for migraine. Since you’ve taken amitriptyline, I assume you’ve seen a doctor. You may want to try to find a headache specialist to try some other options. I recommend reading The Migraine Brain, by Carolyn Bernstein, and sharing it with your family. Migraine is a real illness that is often dismissed as “just a headache.” The Migraine Brain gives details on how migraine, a neurological disorder, works in the body and methods of treatment.

      Best of luck!


  6. I’ve just kind of realized that my anxiety could be connected to my migraines. I’m so glad i found this site! I plan on talking to my neurologist about it at my next visit.
    Still, I’m not very hopeful that he can do anything to make me feel better.

  7. So true. I suffer from migraine, anxiety, and depression. No doctor ever knows me as well as I know myself. I had to diagnose my own anxiety and finally the doctors caught up. The other day I was at the doc, having an attack, and I asked to be given oxygen. The doc gave it to me! You guys, I’m telling you… it stopped the attack. I was able to open my eyes and felt the pain lift immediately. This was the second time oxygen stopped an attack. We must inform our doctors. They don’t always know. Also having a very qualified craniosacral/deep tissue therapist release the tension in the skull and spine can be very useful. I am a certified therapist as well. Everyone I touch with migraine has very tense shoulder and neck muscles. Good luck everyone finding relief.

  8. Imoved back to the country from london because of my migs and increasing anxiety. I was well for a few days and thought Id cracked it. Then, last night I had a terrible mig and have been fighting anxiety all day. Its like you can run but you cant hide. Its like the anxiety has dirtied my lovely cottage. It was silly of me really to think it would be that easy. This web site[that i,ve just found] is a god send. Thank you every body. Have a look at magnesium and migs/anxiety&depression.Its the road Im going down as nothing seems to be working, without side effects. Arnt we lucky that we have sites like this for support. Good luck everyone.x

  9. I think there is a link between anxiety, depression and migs. Have had migs for over 30 years, past menopause now and thought they would ease but just have more of them, not always so severe now. but, wake most days around 4am with a clonker and this’ll either shift or develop during the day. am sure there is a chemical link between depression and migs. bbka, i empathise… have lost friends too because they don’t understand. that’s enuff to depress anyone! we do, i feel, suffer in awful silence. maybe if we had our heads in plaster we’d get some sympathy. peeps with broken legs, who aren’t in pain, just inconvenience, get what we should have!

  10. i dont know since when i had migraine. but i know that this severe pain made my childhood and my teen life very lonely. due to this pain i couldnt do good in my studies. my friends dont understand about my pain i end up staying alone.i am depressed but living with a hope that one day this pain will go and i can live a healthy life

  11. I was so relieved to find this. I’ve had migraines for over 20 years but they have only recently come with major bouts of depression. I was thinking I was losing it, but now know it is just yet another dismal side effect.

    It is a good idea to see your doctor whenever there is a change in your migraines. Especially with depression — the migraine and depression can feed on each other, making both worse. I would hate for that to happen to you.

    Take care,

  12. I suffer from really bad headaches on average three times per week, for the past thirty years.
    I become seriously depressed a day before the migraine and during the attack I loose words and forget what I was saying.when I’m sick I really feel like rather dying to end the angony. I have seen five neurologists and about thirty GPs had all kinds of tests done SCREAM !!!!

    Has anyone had success from the Gerson diet ?

  13. I am very concerned about my friend who has had depression issues for as long as I have known her. She has had times when the depression medications would seem to work,but inevitably the stop working and new ones have to be tried. Now sh is having what someone has termed ‘headacheless migraines’ and she is crying all the time and no doctor seems to have the time or desire to help her out in a timely fashion. Who would any of you suggest she call, a Neuraologist? Who would possibly be able todiagnose and treat this depression/anxiety/migraine issue? Pleaas advise. Thx.


    For the migraines, a neurologist, preferably a headache specialist, would be the one to see. It sounds like depression may be the bigger issue right now — do you know if she’s seen a psychiatrist or is her PCP prescribing antidepressants? A psychiatrist could prescribe a “cocktail” of antidepressants, which can be helpful for people who haven’t had success with individual antidepressants. A psychiatrist could also treat the anxiety. If she’s willing to see a therapist (social worker, psychologist, counselor, etc.), I recommend that, too. Medications can be great, but dealing with the specific issues plaguing her during her depression can be tremendously helpful.

    You are a kind friend.


  14. I grew up with horrible migraines. I had them a least once a week. I also had pretty bad anxiety. They both tapered off as I became an adult, but then I had a nervous breakdown of sorts around 25 years old. Panic attacks, anxiety, severe depression. Lately I’ve been wondering if they’re linked. Looks like it might be after all. Thanks!

  15. As a practitioner of natural therapies, I am always looking for ways to help patients on multiple fronts. Thanks for your insight here!

  16. Had depression and migraine my entire life. One migraine at age 11 and then one at 19. Depression started at age 10. I had a period of about 10 years without headaches and in my thirties started having them regularly. They got increasingly severe and frequent. Am currently 57.

    Was put on a preventative daily (diltiazem) which was like a miracle, about four years ago. Now if I even start to get a migraine the Relpax ALWAYS works and the headache never fully sets in, and symptoms are gone in about an hour.

    Started on Lexipro for anxiety and depression recently due to an extremely difficult and extended life event. This medication has also been very effective, much to my surprise. It feels like pain medication for the pain of depression. Otherwise I fight off depression with healthy activity and diet. (semi-effective).

    Am wondering if an anti-seizure med. would address both at once, since there is a relationship between the two maladies.

  17. I can relate to everything that everyone is saying here. I have family leave when I need it.I feel guilty when I am home sick and feel like I should be working but I am at home throwing up being dizzy,in pain,not being able to think straight,stuck in bed under the covers in a dark room not eating being depressed and suicidal.The next day I go to work and put on a good face while everyone think I’m faking it. one day I was at work with a migraine messing up things,being mean,throwing everywhere and looking like crap. what a life. Having migraines is not a joke and people do not understand nor do they take it serious. I had a class mate blew her brains out because she could not take it anymore. the only stopping me is my christian faith and not wanting to hurt my family.

  18. When I have a migraine I forget a lot and can not concentrate, which makes working very hard. Finding a good doctor that really cares is very hard.

  19. so glad I found this site my migraines have gotten worse and because of this, I have become increasing
    more and more depressed. I feel like I am in a downward spiral and can’t seem to find the doctor or treatment.

  20. I agree with the “duh” analysis – it doesn’t take a study to figure out that a person who has to shut down, lay in bed in a dark room and be isolated from world will be depressed. I have started eating food with no preservatives (which is basically everything) since most preservatives have MSG. I also gave up aspartame. So far i fell better – it may be a placebo effect, but I will take it!!

  21. I’ve been on antidepressants for years (Pristiq is my current med) and have also been diagnosed with migraines in the past year. The migraines feel the same as sudden withdrawal symptoms of antidepressants. Has anyone else found this to be true?

  22. I am SO THANKFUL I found this article today. Yesterday I had a gigantic anxiety attack and within one hour, the migraine scotoma (the flashing lights in one eye) began. About a half-hour later, the headache and throbbing began. After the headache ended, I went into major, nightmarish depression. I’ve had migraines for 20 years, but I’ve always had the scotoma, headache, and nausea without any panic or depression. Thank you for giving me information that anxiety/depression can be part of the migraine “stuff”.

  23. Anxiety and depression is one hell of a nasty disease. even if you have everything but if you have clinical depression, you are still nothing.`-;

  24. I just found this blog and hope to come back often. I know I’m very late in this thread but, oh well! I’ve suffered from migraines for 40 some years–chronically and on disability for the last 15 years. Studies like this amuse me. Oh, I’m sure there probably is a connection, however for me it’s kind of a “DUH” moment!! I’m sick daily to some extent. On my less ill days, I’m anxious because I MIGHT be sick, I no longer travel, any amount of stress makes me sick … am I depressed and anxious?? DUH! Yes, I think so!! And I’m one of the sufferers who perhaps is managing to live with this depressing condition at least semi-effectively by finding a life for myself where I’m functional most of the time.

  25. I’ve had migraines for over 36 yrs, diagnosed with depression for over approximately 22 yrs no one has ever told me it could be tied together. Recently I have had for the last few months a daily bout of migraines with dizziness. My GP decided not to believe me causing me to lose my job because I was not able to go to work. I am now at a lose don’t know what to do and have lost everything including my was to be future husband teh respect of my children, soon my home and all my belongings. I will be on the streets in a month or so. I just found out my mother is in a very bad state with her cancer in which she was doing well just last month and a half now may not make it past christmas and I don’t know what to do. I was placed on topiramax which was causing me to feel very stupid but still headaches was not able to take the imetrex because when headaches did come I was out in public and it would knock me out for 2 hrs. I kept telling dr this but acted as this was all in my head. I feel like a complete failure and probably am but nothing can be done now. I will go see my mom wait for her then go. Where I don’t know. but go

  26. Anxiety attack can be lessened by learning relaxation techniques like those used in meditation. some food supplements like 5-HTP helps in easing the symptoms of anxiety attack

  27. well. I’ve had migraines since my mid teens. Can’t remember if they began before or after my period. I have always struggled with anxiety and intermittent depression- and very much suffer from PMS, but only for about 1-3 days prior to period. What is interesting to me is that at one time I was on an antidepressant, I found that after about 4 months on the drug Imitrex would no longer work (nor Maxalt, etc.) except for the cardiovascular side effects like low bp, fatigue. I think it is interesting that antidepressants work by inhibiting the uptake of serotonin, but triptan/migraine drugs work by increasing the uptake of serotonin- they do the opposite of one another!
    Also, I am usually profoundly fatigued, with flat affect, for the rest of the day after a migraine finally dissipatates. So, in my opinion, I think the migraine is a neurological disorder first, and a psychological one second.

  28. Lola, could you give more details on how you managed your depression so that you’ve been depression & migraine free for 3 years? That’s amazing! I’d love to know how you did it!

  29. I can always tell when a depressive episode might be coming on because I start getting migraines. I guess it has to do with the chemical imbalance, but the 2 are definitely related. Glad to say I’ve been headache & depression free for 3 years! Once I learned how to deal/manage the depression the migraines went away too…there is hope!

  30. I have just found out today from being online about migraine with aura. Mine don’t really hurt(thanks!) but the depression and anxiety along with visual disturbances had me wondering if I were going crazy. The things I see were awesome but later I felt tired and out of sorts, sometimes dizzy and just generally not wanting to do anything. When I exercised regularly and ate well I felt soooo much better. Now I am stuck in the dumps. I just thought it was depression that I couldn’t do anything about except take pills which I won’t stay on for any length of time. This explains so much of my physical complaints. It has taken me 25 years to figure this out. No doctor would ever really know since I don’t have killer headaches. They all claimed it was due to my hyperthroidism. Now I know the real truth. I am relieved but upset that there is one more thing wrong with me to add to the pile. At least I can do something about it all now.

  31. I am on both antidepressents and preventative migraine meds, as well as chiropractic, and I still have some migraines. I also have anxiety problems. I thought I was just weird. I was so relieved when I saw this report a few days ago. It’s me all over.

  32. I find that a depressed mood is usually an indicator that I will soon get a migraine. I also get very stressed and worried immediately before the migraine pain starts. My husband says that he can predict a migraine a day or two before it actually hits simply because of my mood.

  33. I’m late to the discussion here, but my depression and anxiety disorders were diagnosed in 2000, five years before I ever experienced a headache. Any headache – of any sort.


  34. I’ve never been able to decide if I was depressed because of my migraines or my migraines were causing my depression.

  35. For me this is absolutely true. Since I began this headache nearly 17 years ago I have struggled with depression,panic attacks, gad, and a great reluctance to leave the house on most days. My medication suggests I might be bipolar, although my doctors are reluctant to diagnose something that began with a head injury as such.

    I just wish the meds that control these symptoms had some affect on the pain in my head. Instead, I take narcotic pain relievers and spend my days stoned. Not a good solution!

  36. Although I don’t have depression, probably due to excessive exercise, pre migraine, migraine time and immediately post migraine are awful for me. I get very depressed before the migraine comes on. Crying at commercials and TV shows is usually a sign of an oncoming migraine!

  37. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who has suffered from Migraine Disease that hasn’t experienced bouts with anxiety or depression. It’s frightening to be in a body you can’t escape when you have migraines. I know for me, that anxiety could set me up and become a precurser for a migraine attack, and just the fear of having another migraine could bring on anxiety. They also say that for people who suffer anxiety attacks–just the fear of an attack can often be enough to bring one on…and naturally I had that cycle churning too…oh my!

    Ultimately my best defense and ally for anxiety and migraines had to do with taking on daily practices that trained my mind and body to build a better relationship together.

    There’s a guided meditation I have on my blog for releasing anxiety that I have found very helpful if you’d like to check it out.

  38. I feel like it was a causal relationship with me – I wasn’t depressed before, but now that I’m in pain all the time, I struggle more with depression. So far, treating the depression hasn’t helped the migraines, but has helped me have more hope.

  39. Most def. the two go hand in hand. And is it really any surprise? I find laying in the dark during a migraine I become either my own best friend or my own worse enemy. I really have had to teach myself to look at the glass half-full ’cause really … ya just HAVE to. ;o)

    Have a pain-free weekend!


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