It's time to end the stigma of migraine

Migraine is not ‘just a headache’; it’s not even a ‘bad headache’. And yet you can be confident that Google, and most dictionaries, will serve up this definition for any search. 

The definition is problematic.

Another problematic term is ‘migraines’ (plural), as this reinforces the notion that a migraine attack (correct term) is a transient and minor health complaint. 

Migraine is not a bad headache; it is a disabling neurological disease. 

These definitions create a negative perception of migraine, and of the millions of people who live with this condition, and are the main underlying cause of an entrenched stigma which prevents both proper care and creates an enormous hidden burden on the community and the economy. 

This stigma prevents migraine researchers from getting funding and contributes to significant under-reporting in prevalence studies and other health research. 

The result? Migraine is not appropriately accounted for in policy decisions. 

The statistics available on migraine prevalence in Australia are also limited, something Migraine Australia wants to fix. In fact, the National Health Survey conducted by the ABS puts ‘long term’ migraine at 6.2% of Australians, well below the global prevalence rate of 14%. 

Most importantly, the stigma prevents people from seeking care or taking their condition seriously. 

Research shows that migraine literacy is very low, including among those who live with migraine, many people are unable to identify the difference between headache and migraine symptoms. 

Alarmingly, over half of those diagnosed with migraine only use over the counter medications, and are unaware of the potential for medication overuse headache (MOH). 

Awareness among medical professionals is also low, and despite guidelines being available, most clinicians do not follow them when treating migraine.

Overseas research tells us that most people will not reveal their migraine diagnosis to employers, meaning that they are routinely passed over for promotion, demoted, and managed out of their roles because of their chronic condition. 

And, if you consider that the largest demographic significantly affected by migraine attacks are working age women, you can understand why the stigma of migraine contributes to the gender pay gap. 

Migraine Australia is advocating for a country that better supports people with migraine. If we do this well, we can empower those living with migraine (who are statistically of above-average intelligence and highly capable) to make a greater contribution to workforce productivity, and to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism.

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