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My Story of Chronic Migraine & Suicidal Thoughts

Since reading the brave post about migraine and suicide that Kelly from Fly With Hope shared last year, I’ve been trying to gather the courage to share my own experiences with suicidal thoughts and migraine. I finally did so today in a post on Migraine.com entitled Migraine and Suicidal Thoughts: One Migraineur’s Story.

If you are experiencing similar despair, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone. Please don’t keep your pain, fear and sadness to yourself. If you don’t feel you can talk to someone you know, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.

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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?

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Semantics: Depression vs. Sadness

It’s not uncommon to ask a friend how she’s doing and have her response be, “Depressed.” She’s probably sad or down, but not actually depressed. This same sort of thing happens with migraines. If someone has a bad headache, he’ll call it a migraine, even if it’s not.

Popular word choices can make understanding and recognizing actual diseases difficult. If Joe can pop a Tylenol and wipe out his “migraine,” then maybe the rest of us are just whiners. Similarly, the common use of “depression” as a synonym for “sadness” makes it hard to know if you’re in a funk or struggling with clinical depression.

So that’s why I chose “sadness” instead of “depression” in yesterday’s post. Yes, I’m being nitpicky, but with good reason. Chronic headache and depression often occur together because they involve the same brain chemistry. Your docs don’t (necessarily) think you’re “hysterical” when they prescribe anti-depressants, but are targeting serotonin to treat your headaches. And, you may be depressed as well as in pain because the same brain chemistry is under attack.

Much more on this later. I’m off to catch a plane. My internet access will be spotty the rest of the week, but I’ll be posting and checking e-mail as often as I can.

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Dealing With Sadness

A reader asked me, “How do you and others with daily migraines have a life and not be so depressed?”

I don’t think any of us do avoid it. Sadness is just part of the disease. This is a frustrating answer, but time is the only thing that has made it easier.

I’ve learned to accept what I can and can’t do, and to give in to the pain when I need to. I also give in to the sadness sometimes because there’s no denying that chronic pain sucks. Sure, I spend more time in bed than I’d like, and I’d prefer to cry a little less, but this is my life whether I like it or not.

I try to not get down on myself or feel guilty when I feel bad so that I can enjoy the time that I feel good. And some days I can even convince myself that it’s good to have a day in bed. How else would I find the time to devour books?

Submit a comment to share how do you deal with the sadness.

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Pain and Productivity

We all know that when our heads hurt, we aren’t as productive at work or at home. A study released in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine jives with our experiences.

High Health and Productivity Impact of Pain in the Workforce

“Overall, 29 percent of workers reported ongoing problems with pain. Employees with pain scored more than 45 percent lower on an overall rating of physical health, compared to those without pain. Pain was also linked to a 23 percent reduction in mental health score.”