It seems like clockwork these days where I see an article or blog where the headline casually draws a comparison between a mundane, everyday occurrence and a migraine attack. This week, I had the opportunity to choose a favorite between “Don’t Let that Fender Bender Become a Migraine” or “Re-Branding? How to Attract without A Migraine.” Tough one for sure. Aside from the lack of creativity in these titles, this type of language is repeated regularly throughout print and online media. Unfortunately, both the writers of these types of articles as well as many readers (especially those who know very little about the headache disorder) fail to grasp the implications that these statements can have.
These headlines minimize the physical and emotional consequences of migraine
The notion that a minor fender bender or marketing initiative is the same as having a complex, neurological disorder diminishes the impact of migraine. Although these events are not without their own challenges, these analogies are a disservice to the millions of patients who have to deal with constant pain, fear, and other physical and emotional outcomes of the condition. Does anybody really think the nuisance of searching for an auto body shop after a minor accident compares to having head pain, nausea and light sensitivity for hours or days on end; or the severity of cluster headaches, nicknamed ‘suicide headaches’ for their crushing pain; or the oppressive anxiety of the next attack that many face or that even something like thinking too hard might trigger a migraine? These only serve to further the stigma that migraine is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
They are just another way of saying migraine is “just a headache”
It is likely that the writers in these examples simply substituted the word ‘headache’ with ‘migraine,’ which is a far more frequent comparison in the media world. But the fact that they are equating the two continues to paint the picture that a migraine attack is ‘just a headache.’ This is laughable to those in the migraine community but often misunderstood by the broader population because the effects of migraine are primarily hidden from public view. According to Dr. Robert E. Shapiro, this results in many believing that “the mild and tolerable headaches they experience are the same as migraine,” while failing to recognize the reduced quality of life of such disorders. And this stigma can have personal and professional ramifications as well, from dissolved or disconnected relationships with family and friends to being fired for migraine-related disability.
How we can change the migraine narrative
Our goal should not be to shout down or belittle every instance where these comparisons are made, but instead to positively educate the public about chronic headache disorders as well as encourage more precise language from the media. We can do that through constructive dialogue in public online forums, in comment areas on these articles, as well as through our own online channels. We can continue to support patient advocacy groups who raise awareness for migraine and funds for research. We must also continue to share the individual experiences of migraineurs to help reveal the harsh realities that come with it. For instance, we like to showcase the personal wins of our customers and allow them to highlight the nuances of their journeys with chronic illness. Through these and other concerted efforts, we can begin to shift the narrative toward greater understanding of migraine.
How would you like to see the dialogue on migraine change? Answer in the comments below!