Language plays a vital role in how we understand the world. Migraine, as a very common and mostly misunderstood condition, is often stigmatised. Language can be used to disparage and belittle people, labelling them as helpless or as victims of their medical conditions. Sometimes the language we use gives the impression that people did something to deserve being sick, or should be blamed for their medical condition, when this is absolutely not true. In the case of migraine, the language we use reinforces the myth that migraine is ‘just a headache’.
A language guide is a common tool used by many health advocacy organisations to help fight stigma and increase understanding of their condition by encouraging more accurate and respectful language. Language used by medical experts, the media, the public and stakeholders of our own community can greatly impact how people living with migraine are perceived and treated.
Migraine Language Quick Guide
This quick guide contains the most important points from our migraine language guide. If you can change the language you use to talk about migraine on these five points, you will help reduce the stigma for everyone living with migraine!
1: Say migraine attack or episode, not ‘a migraine’
Migraine is a life-long medical condition. The term migraine attack is more accurate to describe the symptoms we experience. Migraine episode is also acceptable.
2: Say migraine, not ‘migraines’
The term migraines (i.e. with an ‘s’) suggests that migraine comes and goes, when this is not the case. The way migraine affects people can change from one day to another and between attacks, but the condition is always there. Migraine disorder is also acceptable.
3: Say ‘people living with migraine’, not ‘migraine sufferers’
Migraine can be awful and people with migraine suffer from the symptoms of migraine attacks. The term ‘migraine sufferer’ isn't helpful as it focuses on the disorder instead of the person.
4: Don’t call your headache a migraine, or migraine a headache
The ‘just a headache’ myth is the leading cause of migraine stigma. Headache is a common symptom, but some people living with migraine do not experience headache at all! Other types of headache, no matter how severe, are not migraine.
5: Don’t call anything else migraine
Please try not to use the word migraine unless you are actually talking about migraine. The term migraine shouldn’t be used to describe something else. It also shouldn’t be used in casual conversation, for example, don’t say things like “I’m getting a migraine just thinking about that”.