Migraine and Mental Health: Coping with the Skeptics

Patient Expert & Health Professional
Medically Reviewed

One of the more discouraging aspect of living with Migraine is coping with the skeptics who don’t believe we are really sick. For whatever reason, they believe the myths and blame us for our symptoms. It would make our lives so much easier if the skeptic would just learn about Migraine.

Essentially, we are asking the skeptic to change his or her opinions about Migraine. Change is not easy for anyone. Changing opinions is especially challenging. After all, the skeptic formed those opinions over many years and has good reason to hold on to them. Persuading the skeptic can be difficult. In fact, the process is entirely dependent upon his or her readiness to change.

Recognizing the phases of change

  1. There is nothing to change.
    In this phase, your skeptic probably has fixed ideas about Migraine that will not change. He or she may truly believe many of the myths that perpetuate stigma. Your skeptic will not be receptive to new information at this phase. It may require input from someone your skeptic views as an authority on Migraine. That “authority” may not be the person you would expect.
  2. Maybe I could change.
    This is the phase in which your skeptic starts to wonder if old ideas might need rethinking. Your skeptic is still not ready to be persuaded, but may be open to the idea of learning something new. It can be tempting to rush into flooding your skeptic with information. However, that would be a mistake. Too much pressure to change and the skeptic will resist.
  3. What if I did change?
    By this phase, the skeptic begins trying on new ideas, exploring the information, and thinking about a change of beliefs. You skeptic isn’t completely sold on changing his or her mind, but is at least willing to listen to new ideas.
  4. I want to change!
    The skeptic who is ready to change will actively seek out new information about Migraine. This is the time to bring out all your evidence. Invite the skeptic to accompany you to your next doctor appointment. Offer website links to reputable sources. Be available to answer questions.
  5. I am changing.
    At this point, your skeptic has become your ally. Questioning your symptoms is a thing of the past. Instead, your skeptic offers practical support, accommodations, and demonstrates empathy toward your experience with Migraine.
  6. I am tired of change.
    Sooner or later, everyone gets tired of dealing with Migraine. Unlike patients, our skeptics-turned-allies can walk away. They get burned out and long for their former life of blissful ignorance. This phase may only last for a moment. It may also become permanent. Some skeptics will cycle back through all the phases of change over and over again until they finally become a permanent ally.

You can’t change the skeptic

  • Only the skeptic can decide to change, learn about Migraine, and offer support.
  • You cannot speed up this process or force the skeptic to skip a few phases.
  • All you can do is recognize when your skeptic is ready to change.
  • Be prepared to offer the needed information at just the right time.
  • Resist the urge to persuade your skeptic before he or she is ready.

More helpful information:

The Stigma of Migraine - The Journey of Living with and Fighting It

Migraine Burden Worsened by Stigma

Migraine and Stigma - How We Can Make a Difference and Why We Should

Sources:

1 Gold, M. Stages Of Change. Psych Central. 2017. Accessed: March 17, 2017.

2 Welcome To The Motivational Interviewing Website! Motivationalinterviewing.org. 2017. Accessed: March 17, 2017.