The link between migraine and depression

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to highlight that people with migraine disease are at greater risk of some mental illnesses, especially depression and anxiety.

It’s a sad truth that migraine and depression travel together. If you have migraine disease, you’re more likely to experience depression than those without it, especially if you have chronic migraine (15 or more headache days a month). And if you have depression, you’re more likely to experience migraine attacks.

Most people wouldn’t be surprised to learn that someone with frequent, unremitting migraine attacks might end up feeling depressed. But there may be more to it than a response to constant pain. There may be a shared genetic component, or differences in the brain that predispose someone to both conditions, or imbalances in serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in both migraine attacks and depression. Both depression and migraine are more common in women, which may mean that the female sex hormone estrogen is implicated in some way.

Chronic stress may be involved in triggering depression, contributing to chronic migraine and keeping the cycle of migraine and depression turning, especially as both migraine attacks and depression can also become stressors that exacerbate each condition. It becomes a cycle that is hard to extract oneself from. Concomitant sleep disturbance, fatigue and disrupted eating patterns just add to the damage.

It can be easy to dismiss symptoms of depression as an effect of migraine attacks. So beware of symptoms that persist for more than a couple of weeks, including:

  • feeling sad, empty or irritable
  • feeling guilty, worthless or bad about yourself
  • loss of interest in things that you usually enjoy
  • anxiety, agitation and restlessness
  • lethargy and loss of energy, so that even small tasks seem overwhelming
  • difficulty in concentrating and focusing
  • insomnia or sleeping excessively
  • overeating or loss of appetite
  • aches and pains without an apparent cause
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • If you are experiencing these symptoms, don’t dismiss them as being caused by migraine. They could be a sign of depression, which can be treated. If you are thinking about suicide, reach out
  • and ask for help – this is not something to ignore.

Where to get help

Talk to your GP or another health professional about how you are feeling and how this can be managed.

Depression can be treated and what your treatment options are depends on how mild or severe your depression is. Treatment often includes medication and non-medicine treatment such as talking therapy.

Free call or text 1737 for support from a trained counsellor; or text (4357) or call Lifeline 0800 LIFELINE (0800 543 354)

Find out more about depression and get support

Show your support for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, 26 September – 2 October. Find out more on the Mental Health Awareness Week website

  1. Amiri S, Behnezhad S, Azad E. Migraine headache and depression in adults: a systematic Review and Meta-analysis. neuropsychiatrie 2019 33:3. 2019;33(3):131-140. doi:10.1007/S40211-018-0299-5
  2. Rist PM, Schürks M, Buring JE, Kurth T. Migraine, headache, and the risk of depression: Prospective cohort study. Cephalalgia. 2013;33(12):1017-1025. doi:10.1177/0333102413483930
  3. Zhang Q, Shao A, Jiang Z, Tsai H, Liu W. The exploration of mechanisms of comorbidity between migraine and depression. J Cell Mol Med. 2019;23:4505-4513. doi:10.1111/jcmm.14390