Beyond Migraine Podcast — Episode 1: Migraine and Your Mental Health

Beyond Migraine Podcast — Episode 1 explores the impact migraine can have on mental health

This article is part of a sponsored series linked to each Beyond Migraine podcast episode brought to you by the Migraine Association of Ireland and Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland.

Please tune in to hear more on these topics and encourage people you are treating for migraine to listen in.

While science does not have the full answer yet, there are two key possibilities for the co-morbidities of anxiety and depression recurring in people with migraine, according to Dr Sabina Brennan, Irish Neuroscientist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, who also lives with migraine.

“Anxiety and depression might be caused by the debilitating burden of constant pain or there might be a common pathophysiology between migraine and anxiety and/or depression”, Dr Brennan said in the first episode of a new podcast series, Beyond Migraine. The series has just been launched by the Migraine Association of Ireland in partnership with Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland.

Beyond Migraine is a first of its kind podcast series in Ireland which provides support for people living with migraine. Episode one, Migraine and Your Mental Health, aims to further understand the relationship between migraine and mental health.

It is estimated that 12-15% of people live with migraine in Ireland, equating to approximately 500,000 people. It is three times more common in women than in men, and is usually inherited.

Some people experience only one or two attacks per year, while others suffer on a weekly basis, with attacks which can last from four to 72 hours.1

A recent survey, conducted by Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland among 265 people living with migraine in Ireland, revealed how living with migraine impacted mental health, with 30% stating that they felt depressed and sad, and 25% stating they felt depressed and anxious.

Also participating in episode one, are Aoife Gallagher and Jane Whelan, both of whom live with migraine. They discuss the impact that migraine has had on their lives.

Aoife’s migraines began after a severe viral illness over five years ago. She had to give up work, as it left her mostly housebound, as her headaches are aggravated by noise, especially the noise created by the hum of people speaking.

Jane is a Migraine Association of Ireland ‘patient ambassador’ and has lived with migraine for over 30 years. She is also a yoga instructor and hosts dedicated migraine-focused yoga classes to help people better manage their symptoms.

They explained to Beyond Migraine podcast host Debbie Hutchinson how their migraine affects them, how learning acceptance, adapting their lives, families, careers and persisting with exercise helped them cope with the pain and better manage the impact of migraine.

“Over time I had to adapt to living with the pain. Rather than having the pain control me all the time, by learning to live with it, I have better control of my own life, I can manage the pain better and I can cope with it better”, said Aoife.

“Over time I realised that if I accepted the pain but didn’t feel bound by it, it gave me a freedom that I could say, I’m going to have this pain, it’s chronic, it’s likely I’m going to have it off into the distance, but I can do more. There’s more to me than just headaches. There’s more to me than just this constant pain, that the person I was before is still there, just slightly different. That gave me the freedom to always not be looking on the negative side”, Aoife continued.

Further Teva Pharmaceutical Ireland survey results revealed that 51% of people with migraine said they were frustrated, 53% were exhausted, 53% said their partner was impacted by their migraine, 40% said their children were impacted by their migraines and 57% said migraines impacted their ability to provide unconditional support to their children.2 Having a strong support network within the family played a large role in supporting better mental health, and implementing routine helps the brain operate better.

Aoife when discussing the impact of migraine on her family said she was often ‘the missing mum’, who wasn’t able to help out at school. Her older children had to ‘grow up a little bit faster than other kids of the same age and help with the chores around the house and they became really good at doing the shopping’.

Jane said she had never known life without migraine. “I’m the typical person who went from having a migraine maybe once a month as a teenager. Then, in my 20s, it became chronic. Accepting, coping and living with it has taken a very long time, and I persisted for too long in what was probably a terrible career for somebody with bad migraine, because I was travelling constantly. I now work in a job where it’s very much nine to half five, Monday to Friday. The routine has been really good for me and good for my brain.”

Dr Brennan said that for anybody, even for people who did not have migraine, regularity was critical to the functioning of their brain. “Your brain manages your emotions. It controls and regulates your hormones, which regulate your behaviour. Stress is classified as a common trigger of migraine and stress itself can gradually develop into a medical diagnosis of anxiety, or a generalised anxiety disorder, and then if you’re constantly stressed and in pain, you can understand where the depression might come in. So, I think it’s critical for people, particularly for those who live with migraine, to manage their stress and that’s very possible to do, and one of the ways to do this is through acceptance.”

Dr Brennan also only recently discovered the problems with her neck and shoulders was a consequence of her migraine, rather than the other way around. She also thought migraine could be related to other issues as well. “I also have an autoimmune condition, but I think the key is, physical exercise is actually really very good for your brain and for your mental health. This is important too because migraine can be related to vascular issues and your brain depends on your cardiovascular system for the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to function. It’s a high energy organ. It only weighs 2% of your body but it consumes 25% of the nutrients circulating at any point in time.”

Host Debbie Hutchinson asked Dr Brennan about brain fog — which people living with migraine can experience. Dr Brennan said that with brain fog you can be an awful lot slower at processing information and get frustrated with yourself and other people might get frustrated with you.

“But the thing is, if you have an injury to your hip you’re recovering from an operation, people will just wait up for you and they’ll adjust their pace to walk with you because they can see it. We need to raise awareness that if a person is struggling to find a word or it’s taking them a bit longer, to give them the time.”

Jane, when discussing her experience with brain fog, said she was not getting brain fog as badly as previously, but she thought she had had it for years without knowing what it was. “I just thought every woman was a victim of that, and it took everybody two hours in the morning to kick into action. Brain fog for me actually really affects my work. That’s where I find it most impactful.”

Dr Brennan continued that what Jane described in terms of not being able to find the words, was a language issue, not a memory issue. “A lot of people don’t realise that. If I have bad brain fog, I can’t even decide what to wear. I used to travel a lot, pre-pandemic as well, and sometimes it would take me hours to pack because I could not figure out what I should put in my case. I’ve spoken to people with brain fog who can’t even prepare a dinner that they’ve been preparing for years because they can’t get it together to figure out what order things go in or what ingredients they need. So, I think it’s up to us now to actually empower ourselves.”

MIG-IE-NP-00068                Date of Preparation: August 2021

You can listen to the Beyond Migraine episode featuring Dr Sabrina Brennan, Aoife Gallagher and Jane Whelan here.

The series can be streamed via the Migraine Association of Ireland website as well as wherever you listen to your podcasts.

For more information on migraine, you can visit Neurologybytes. This is an online news and education platform dedicated to neurology, where healthcare professionals working in neurology can discover bite sized content on the latest developments, with a particular focus on migraine and MS. Read more about migraine on www.neurologybytes.ie.

The Beyond Migraine podcast is supported by funding from Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland. Speakers have received an honorarium for their contribution to the podcast.

References

  1. What is a migraine? Migraine Association of Ireland. https://migraine.ie/what-is-a-migraine/
  2. Beyond Migraine: The Real You Research by Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland. Research conducted by Empathy Research. Prepared October 2020. This survey was carried out among 265 Irish Migraineurs.

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