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Headaches and Depression

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 5 Nov 2014 | comments*Discuss
Headaches Migraines Depression Doctor

The link between headaches and depression is complicated in that painful and often frequent headaches themselves can lead to depression and those who already suffer from depression may find that headaches are a symptom of their illness.


When headaches occur alongside depression treatment needs to be modified to address both ailments and therefore a multifaceted approach may be required. It seems obvious that constant pain could leave a person feeling sad and distressed but depression isn't a minor mood change to be taken lightly. It's a debilitating illness that can prevent a person from functioning and enjoying life to the fullest. Chronic headaches and depression both can have a devastating impact on a person's quality of life and well-being.

Some of the symptoms that may indicate depression are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling sad
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Lack of confidence
  • Various physical aches
  • Weight changes
  • Frequent thoughts of death

It can be a frustrating cycle in that you feel depressed because you are suffering headache pain that, in turn, causes intensified headache pain and frequency.

Why Me?

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, has been indicated in both depression and headaches, particularly migraines. It is thought that some people are more susceptible to changes and abnormalities in serotonin regulation. Another suggestion is that genetics are partially responsible for increasing the likelihood that a person will experience both headaches and depression. A traumatic accident or event may possibly set into motion changes in the brain that lead to headaches and then depression, or vice versa.

What Can You Do?

Unfortunately, many people don't seek help for depression, often because they are embarrassed or because they think that it will resolve on its own. Couple the depression with headaches and a person can be left feeling quite overwhelmed and helpless. The lack of motivation and apathy that can accompany depression make it difficult for a person to seek help and support.

Stress management is important in treating both headaches and depression. Because there can be many sources of stress, you may have to examine the strongest ones and work to reduce them. People who suffer from headaches and depression are more likely to have higher levels of daily stress. Medication alone may not be adequate to address your headaches and depression if you ignore the root stress causes of your pain.

Some people find that alternative methods such as biofeedback and yoga, for example, help them to cope with daily pressures. Counselling is another option and can be helpful in providing an outlet for you to discuss your worries and fears. Above all, however, do realise that you are not alone. Depression and headaches affect many people and your doctor will be familiar with treating both illnesses.

A key question for research scientists is whether treating one disorder will then involve treatment of the other. It should not be assumed that by treating one disorder, the other will automatically go away, although this may indeed be the case. Your doctor will decide which medications are best for your headaches and depression.

Anti-depressants may be prescribed and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may be recommended to start, with prescription strength headache preparations following if these are not successful. There are options available for treating headaches and depression, and you need not suffer alone.

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i have severe migraines, i have at least 5 per week, i also suffer from neuralgia, could the migraine attack trigger the neuralgia in the one side of my head, used to have neuralgia in my teeth and side of face the same side as i have now in the head, the pain is unbearable for about30 minutes then goes, same used to happen with my teeth pain, had scan on head and all normal, any advise given gratefully received,
ali - 5-Nov-14 @ 7:39 PM
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