Depression and Headache Disorders – An Overview

Depression and Headache Disorders are often linked, with one of these triggering the other and vice versa. Around 80% of adults all over the world experience tension headaches throughout their life and most of them suffer from mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression. Another research indicated that up to 40% of migraine sufferers were also patients of mental disorders like depression.

Character of pain

Headache can be pulsating, throbbing, dull, or radiating in character that worsens with physical activity.

Duration of pain

Headaches are rebound and more than 3 episodes occur in a week, each episode lasting for longer than 2 hours.


  • Low mood
  • Neck stiffness and back pain
  • Joint and body aches
  • General Lethargy and weakness
  • Irritability
  • Eating disorders
  • Poor Sleep
  • Excessive weight gain or weight loss
  • Loss of concentration
  • Sudden urge to cry and feeling of worthlessness
  • Severe headache

Other than this, the symptoms are related to the type of headache experienced by the patient. Such as a patient with chronic migraine condition experiences visual Auras and other Migraine-related symptoms.


The exact cause of a headache is complex, however abnormal Brain processes, genetics, and some pain receptors are involved in triggering a headache. Depression and Headache Disorders often have two causes Primary and Secondary.


The primary cause of Depression-induced headaches is usually stress and anxiety along with genetic and environmental factors. The headache disorders experienced due to primary cause are usually Migraine, Cluster Headaches, and Tension Headaches. Studies suggest that an imbalance of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine is responsible for the coexistence of Depression and Headache Disorders like a migraine.


The secondary cause of depression headache is often associated with other medical conditions and some factors, a few of which are as follows:


Rebound headaches can often lead to the development of some complications, that are:

  • Medication overuse headache: Frequent use of over-the-counter analgesics can lead to the development of tolerance and the same dose of medicine is not able to cure the Headache.
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dependence on analgesics for pain relief
  • Drug abuse
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Nervous disorders in case of prolonged mental health issues.


For proper diagnosis of a headache induced by depression, proper knowledge of the triggering factors, duration, association with other factors and any sort of pattern of repetition would be asked by the doctor. The presence of headache disorders has a great contribution to depression thus, a proper history of the headache disorder is also required.


For the management of mental illnesses preventive and medical treatments are both required for effective results.


  • Headache triggers should be recognized as early as possible and avoided at any cost.
  • Avoid overuse of OTC analgesics.
  • Avoid skipping meals
  • Refrain from any sort of stress.


  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • Over the counter painkillers for temporary relief.
  • Ketamine infusions for Mood disorders
  • Prescription medication for Headache disorders.
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Psychotherapy

Home Remedies:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Rest well
  • Meditation and yoga for mind and body relaxation.
  • Ask for help, if you have any suicidal thoughts
  • Regulate your sleeping pattern
  • Fix your meal times
  • Caffeine intake should be in moderation
  • Avoid the use of Alcohol and other triggers

When to consult the doctor?

You should book an appointment with your psychologist if you’ve been having symptoms of depression for 2 weeks associated with self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Along with this, any sort of Headache disorder should also be addressed.


How is depression and Tension Headache linked?

Depression often leads to neck stiffness and muscles of the shoulder to tighten up. This continuous stress leads to the development of a Tension Headache.

Why do Headaches in Depression recur?

The headaches are rebound because the root cause, that is Depression stays unresolved. The symptoms of depression eg, neck stiffness, and constant stress lead to the development of a headache as soon as the effect of analgesic wears off.

What are some therapies to treat Depression and Headache Disorders?

Relaxation therapies like Acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and behavioral therapies like Cognitive behavioral therapy are of great help in terms of long term treatment.