Mental illness, migraine, and doctors’ attitudes.

Bipolar disorder and other psychiatric problems are 2-3 times more common in those who suffer from migraine headaches and migraines are 2-3 times more common in patients with mental illness. Those who suffer from migraines are very familiar with the attitude of doctors, family members and employers who consider migraine to be just another headache, meaning that it is not something that should stop you from doing any activities. Some doctors still blame migraine sufferers for their condition and think that this is a problem of neurotic women. People with mental illness face even more severe discrimination from doctors and everyone else. A very good article on this topic, “When Doctors Discriminate” has appeared in the New York Times this Sunday.

Dr. Robert Shapiro of the University of Vermont recently presented a study which looked at attitudes toward patients with migraine, epilepsy and other conditions. It was an internet-based survey of 705 individuals that examined the levels of stigma by asking following questions:
How comfortable would you be with Jane as a colleague at work?
How likely do you think it is that this would damage Jane’s career?
How comfortable would you be with the idea of inviting Jane to a dinner party?
How likely to you think it would be for Jane’s husband to leave her?
How likely do you think it would be for Jane to get in trouble with the law?

Scoring ranged from 0 to 100. The mean scores were very similar for migraine, panic disorder, and epilepsy and were all significantly greater than for asthma. He concluded that migraine carries as much stigma as epilepsy or panic disorder, although he noted limitations.

Another group of researchers from Philadelphia led by Dr. William Young interviewed 123 patients with episodic migraine, 123 with chronic migraine, and 62 with epilepsy for levels of stigma as perceived by these patients.

Chronic migraine patients had much higher scores on the Stigma Scale for Chronic Illness (SSCI) than the other two groups, but that seemed to be due to chronic migraine patients’ reduced ability to work.

Dr. Young reported that migraine patients reported more “internalized” stigma, that is negative attitudes in themselves or anticipation that others would think negatively of them, and less actual discrimination on the basis of their illness, compared with the epilepsy patients.

These studies and the New York Times article indicate a great need for educating both doctors and the general public about the nature of chronic migraines and mental diseases and for combating the stigma associated with these conditions.

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