Is There a Link Between Headaches and Mental Health Issues?

A man holds his head with his hands in agonyHeadaches can be debilitating, interfering with people’s abilities to do their jobs, care for their children, or even just sit in a chair. Despite increased research into headaches, though, headache rates continue to rise. Forty-five million Americans each year face chronic headaches, and the incidence of headaches among children rose from 14% to 50% between 1972 and 1991. It should come as no surprise that those who face frequent pain may become anxious or depressed, but a new study suggests that a history of mental health issues may actually increase the likelihood of experiencing headaches.

Do Mental Health Issues Cause Headaches?

Previous research has found a tentative connection between headaches and mental health difficulties. For instance, a 2002 study found that migraines were more common among those with bipolar. Other research suggests that headaches are about twice as common in people with depression and anxiety. There’s also plenty of data suggesting that chronic stress—including that associated with mental health difficulties—can lead to chronic tension headaches.

To test the connection between headaches and mental health difficulties, researchers reviewed data from 19 World Health Organization (WHO) surveys, allowing them to assess more than 50,000 participants. The surveys gathered basic demographic information about health, sex, and age, as well as data on mood, anxiety levels, and history of addiction. Even after adjusting for factors that might affect the likelihood of experiencing headaches, researchers found a connection between mental health and headaches. They found that a wide variety of mental health conditions increased the likelihood of suffering from headaches by about 40%.

The study’s authors argue that their data suggests that a history of mental health problems could increase the likelihood of subsequently developing headaches. The study was published in the Journal of Pain. 


  1. Fasmer, O. B., MD, & Oedegaard, K. J., MD. (2002, August 1). Are migraines and bipolar disorder related? Retrieved from
  2. Study assesses link of preexisting mental disorders with chronic headaches. (2015, February 24). Retrieved from
  3. Yount, K. A., DDS, MAGD, FAGD. (n.d.). Tension headaches. Retrieved from

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  • Chase


    February 28th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    How about any history of headaches that could cause mental health problems?

  • court V

    court V

    February 28th, 2015 at 12:19 PM

    I know that I have had some headaches from time to time that have felt like they would drive me to madness, but I know that they were just migraines. I take some medication now that helps me to avoid some of those and that has been a big life changer for me.

  • Steven


    March 2nd, 2015 at 3:42 AM

    I can definitely see how easily there could be this kind of connection. The two things, headaches and mental health… it does not seem like it would be that much of a stretch for the two things to have a lot of similarities and connections with each other.

  • mary alice

    mary alice

    March 2nd, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    not something that you will want to keep to yourself
    this is something that you should talk with a doctor about for sure

  • Mannie


    March 3rd, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    This could be one of the first indicators that there is something wrong with a patient when they come in seeking a diagnosis, might even lead a doctor in a different direction from what he would have normally guessed what was going on.

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    alternative medecine

    January 13th, 2016 at 3:20 PM

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday.
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