“It’s just a headache.”
For anyone who lives with migraine, there’s a good chance they’ve heard this dismissive remark from someone in their lives, maybe even someone they love.1,2 Karamo Brown, host from Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye, knows all too well what it feels like to be out-of-commission from migraine, while disbelieved by friends and family at the same time.
“The first time I experienced migraine, I was in high school. The pain went on for hours, and everybody kept saying, ‘it’s just a headache’,” Brown says. “I remember thinking, ‘but headaches don’t last this long.’ I couldn’t look at the light, I felt nauseated, and even though I was telling my friends and teachers how I was feeling, they didn’t seem to believe me.”
That experience is one reason why Brown has teamed up with Amgen and Novartis on the Know Migraine Mission campaign. The goal? To help change the culture around migraine by encouraging anyone living with the disease to share their experiences with their friends and families.
Changing the culture around migraine
Medical science long ago disproved the perception that migraine is “just a headache.”1 The condition is a neurological disease that affects more than 1 billion people worldwide, and the World Health Organization considers migraine among the world’s most disabling diseases.1,3,4 Yet many people who live with migraine frequently find themselves stigmatized, and their experiences dismissed, even among friends and family.2
“In my opinion, the way you change a culture is by shifting people’s shared attitudes and values, and it really comes down to education,” Brown says. “People living with migraine should feel empowered to speak up, and not to feel intimidated if they don’t yet have the language to describe their experiences.”
When more people speak out about their migraine experiences, the change in culture can help make life better for everyone impacted by the disease, including the friends, family and coworkers of migraine sufferers. “If you love someone who lives with migraine, don’t invalidate their feelings,” Brown says. “Believe what they are telling you.”
Breaking migraine stigmas
Migraine stigmas have been part of the cultural landscape since the 18th century, when many of today’s stereotypes about the condition began to take root.5 Since that time, migraine sufferers, especially women, have been falsely and negatively stigmatized as everything from selfish to unreliable.2
Reasons for hope
Advancements in migraine management plans and growing public awareness about life with this disease offer reasons for hope among migraine sufferers.6 Today, many migraine patients can find ways to manage their disease by working closely with their doctor. Speaking up about their experiences can be another important step because it gives friends and family the information they need to provide support.
“Stress for me is often what brings on migraine days, and it does help when I can relieve that stress through communication,” Brown says. “For me, the process of speaking up to friends and family was a journey, and it was a two-way street. I had to be patient with myself and patient with them, and I had to learn to support them as they’re supporting me.”
To hear more from Karamo Brown, including tips and a video, visit KnowMigraineMission.com.
- Russo AF. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2015; 55:533-552.
- Rutberg S, Ohrling K. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(4):329-336.
- Gibbs SN. Headache. 2020;60:1351-1364.
- World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders. Accessed on December 8, 2020.
- Young WB. Pract Neurol. 2018;(2)23-26.
- AHS Consensus Statement. Headache. 2019; 2019;59:1-18.