Is There a Link Between Migraines and Depression?

For some sufferers, migraines can mean an increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Medically reviewed in September 2020

For most people battling chronic migraines, the crippling headaches, nausea, dizziness and light sensitivity are painful enough. But according to a new study from the University of Toronto, some sufferers are also combating harrowing depression and suicidal thoughts.

An Aching Head, A Troubled Mind
Using data from a Canadian national health survey, researchers compared more than 6000 migraine sufferers to people who didn't experience migraine headaches. It turns out that those with chronic migraines were twice as likely to have felt depressed as those who didn't. They were also twice as likely to have seriously considered suicide.

The study, published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment, also found that young migraineurs were more susceptible to depression, possibly due to a lack of effective treatment for, or inability to cope with, their migraines. Single people or those who had trouble with daily activities due to their headaches were also more likely to experience depression. And as previous studies have shown, migraines were much more common in women than in men. One in every 7 women reported having migraines, compared to one in every 16 men.

Dealing with Depression, Managing Your Migraines
It's clear from the study that routine screenings and intervention are needed for migraine sufferers at the greatest risk for depression and suicidal thoughts. And if you find yourself exhibiting symptoms of depression, make sure to reach out to family, friends or a trusted healthcare provider. Here are a few other things you can do to battle the blues (and your pounding head):

  • Head to the kitchen. Changing the way you eat is one of the easiest ways to change how you feel. Instead of filling your body with processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods that can make symptoms of depression and migraine headaches worse, arm yourself with these good mood foods. They help boost production of the feel-good chemical serotonin, increase energy and alertness, and decrease pain caused by inflammation. Watch out for foods that can trigger migraines, though, such as cured meats, aged cheeses and alcohol.
  • Beat the blues with B vitamins. Some studies have shown that vitamins B6 and B12 are an effective way to combat depression. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the production of serotonin, and B12 deficiencies have been link to depression. Bonus: studies have also shown that B12 has the potential to reduce the frequency of migaines in some sufferers.
  • Chill out. Not only is stress a common migraine trigger, but it can also lead to depression and anxiety. To help reduce depression symptoms and stave off migraines, try taking daily walks, connecting with friends and family, or writing in a journal.

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