MHAM before MHAM: Mental Health and Migraine

For those of us in the headache community, MHAM probably means Migraine Headache Awareness Month every June. But there’s another MHAM that can be just as important to our group that has been going on throughout the month of May – Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health is an incredibly significant piece of the puzzle for everyone, but especially for those of us with neurological disorders. Stress is a well-known migraine trigger, and part of the reason is the release of a hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol can contribute to pain for a variety of reasons, but some of the major ones for headache diseases is an increase in inflammation, heart rate, and blood sugar. The thing is, stress isn’t the only thing that can increase cortisol: depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, insomnia, and more. Understanding that our mental health can have an immediate and direct effect on our mental health is a huge key to pain management throughout our lives.

The other side of this reality is that a lot of people like me who have migraine are more likely to live with some of these disorders. Outside of those listed above, migraine is also comorbid with ADHD, panic disorders, phobias, and more. Chronic illness and chronic mental illness have so much in common, from the isolation we experience, to the invisible nature of the challenges we face every day, to the stigma associated with honesty about what we go through.

It can be scary to talk about our mental health, both because of the stigma and because grappling with the reality can be overwhelming, especially when chronic pain already takes so much energy in the first place. But approaching our mental health with the same level of focus and determination as our physical health can completely change our lives.

During my rockier times, I do see an increase in the severity and frequency of my own migraine attacks, and the opposite is true when my mental health is more stable. Going to my counselor and psychiatrist regularly is just as much a part of my migraine toolbox as anything else!

If you’re looking to start your journey or need more resources, consider visiting these links: