Stimga and migraine
A lot of young people with chronic migraine or frequent migraines complain about having to ‘give in’ to their migraines and rest when they occur, instead of continuing on with their lives. Migraines in children can mean missing out on a lot, like school and playing or hanging out with friends.
Sometimes people who don’t get migraines can downplay them, or have a tough time understanding what it might be like for a child with a migraine. As a result, children don’t feel validated in their feelings. They are told, “it’s just a headache” because people do not understand how disabling migraines can be. Children then feel uncomfortable getting help. Research has shown that people with migraine, particularly chronic migraine, are more likely to experience stigma about their illness than people with other disorders. 1 People with migraine are at an increased risk of having thoughts of suicide and depression, therefore dealing with the stigma surrounding migraine is important. 2 If your child is experiencing stigma or is feeling excluded, or just generally their migraines are a source of anxiety or sadness for them, there are strategies that can help.
At school, one strategy to help with migraines is to talk with your child’s teacher at the beginning of each school year. School can be difficult particularly for children with migraines because they may not feel comfortable telling their teachers that they are having a migraine. Talking with their teacher can help your child feel comfortable to bring migraines up and help your child’s teacher understand what’s going on. Missed school can be an issue for children and teens and they may fall behind in classes. Again, finding ways to work with your child or teen’s teachers can help keep them on top of their work even when they need to take time away.
Further, migraines can affect a child’s social life. Some children feel like they aren’t able to play with friends because their migraines get in the way. Some children may find themselves excluded because of their migraines. A strategy for helping your child to feel included is to talk to your child’s friends’ parents, and having your child or teen talk to their friends can help to avoid issues. Preparing something with your child or teen that is short and simple to say can help their friends better understand what they’re going through. A child might tell their friends that they have a disorder where sometimes they get a special type of headache that is worse than the regular headaches that other people get. These headaches make them feel dizzy and like they want to throw-up, and unlike with other headaches where people can continue on with their day, doctors have said they need to lie down and take a break when they happen. A teen could tell their friends that migraines are worse than other headaches because they are a diagnosed neurological disorder. Teens could also say that their headaches have extra symptoms like dizziness and vomiting which is why when they get them they need to lie down and take a break.
The last strategy is to encourage your child or teen see a psychologist. Psychologists can help your child both with their migraines with cognitive behaviour therapy but also with their day-to-day functioning and offer the support they might need. Migraine is the 6th most disabling disorder in the world and can understandably cause a lot of frustrations. Having your child talk with a professional counsellor can help them develop strategies to deal with the negative feelings they might be having.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the number below.
In Canada the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS)
Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7
Text: 45645 Available 5pm-1am ET
Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca Available 5pm-1am ET
For all other countries here is a link to a list of suicide hotlines throughout the world.
1. Young, W. B., Park, J. E., Tian, I. X. & Kempner, J. The Stigma of Migraine. PLoS ONE 8, (2013).
2. Wang, S.-J., Fuh, J.-L., Juang, K.-D. & Lu, S.-R. Migraine and suicidal ideation in adolescents aged 13 to 15 years. Neurology 72, 1146–1152 (2009).