People who suffer from migraines are about twice as likely to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts, according to Canadian researchers, who say women and young people with migraines are particularly vulnerable to what Winston Churchill has called “the black dog” of depression.
Researchers at the University of Toronto surveyed more than 67,000 Canadians, over 6,000 of those reporting they had been diagnosed with migraine by a health care professional.
Both women and men with migraine were more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as those without the disease (women: 12.4% vs. 5.7%; men: 8.4% vs. 3.4%).
Serious thoughts of suicide – also known as suicide ideation – were also more common for migraine sufferers (women: 17.6% versus 9.1%; men: 15.6% versus 7.9%). Migraine sufferers under the age of 30 had four times the odds of suicidal ideation than those 65 and over.
Previous studies have also shown a link between migraines, suicide and depression, but this is one of the first to dig deeper and look at other factors associated with the comorbidities. The study is published online in the journal Depression Research and Treatment.
Among both women and men with migraine, being younger, unmarried, poor, or disabled increased the odds of depression – in some cases dramatically. Single people with migraine were found to have 50% and 70% higher odds of depression and suicidal thoughts.
“The vulnerability of young people with migraine to depression and suicidal ideation is particularly worrying. For both genders, migraineurs under the age of 30 had at least six times the odds of current depression and four times the odds of lifetime suicidal ideation when compared to those aged 65 and above,” wrote lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto.
“Older migraineurs, by contrast, have had a longer time to adjust to their condition, for example, by learning effective coping mechanisms or achieving adequate treatment, which may reduce the perceived burden of their illness.”
The first onset of migraine is typically experienced in late adolescence and early adulthood. The researchers believe diagnosis of migraine at a young age may interfere with normal developmental processes, such as obtaining an education, building a career, and starting a family.
“We are not sure why younger migraineurs have such a high likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation. It may be that younger people with migraines have not yet managed to find adequate treatment or develop coping mechanisms to minimize pain and the impact of this chronic illness on the rest of their lives,” said study co-author and former graduate student Meghan Schrumm.
The researchers say health care providers treating patients with migraine should be alert to signs of depression, particularly if the patient is younger and single.
“Informing a wider range of health professionals and migraine sufferers themselves about the patterns of depression and suicidal ideation surrounding age, marital status, and activity limitations may help to increase awareness of the comorbidities of migraine and empower migraineurs to come forward with their mental health concerns,” said Fuller-Thomson.