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Stigma (From the Oxford English Dictionary)
- A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person
When we speak of the stigma Migraine sufferers (migraineurs) experience we are really talking about an ingrained set of cultural attitudes that strongly imply that this crippling, neurological disease is somehow something that can be discounted, that it is a “lifestyle choice”, personal weakness, or is far less serious than the sufferer would lead you to believe. There is an inherent suggestion of malingering, or choosing to use the condition (which as everyone knows is really“not that bad”) to avoid all kinds of responsibilities, personal, familial or work-related. Migraine stigma exists, as borne out by recent peer-reviewed research. The stigma that migraineurs encounter suggests migraine is not a severe or legitimate medical condition. This conclusion is wrong-headed, damaging, and just plain irrational! The question now is what do we do about it?
It is not bad enough that 36 million sufferers (in the US alone) experience excruciating pain, often for days on end, frequently accompanied by nausea and vertigo. They also have to endure the “disgrace” of the stigma, which can emanate from co-workers or even family members. As many of us know, research into migraine disorders is woefully underfunded. It is not a difficult conclusion to draw that because of incorrect societal attitudes and stigma; many important research opportunities are overlooked at the highest levels. This nasty cycle of suffering, stigma, and lack of study must be broken!
Education and information into migraine disorders is an excellent start. It is integral to the mission of our organization, the Association of Migraine Disorders, to educate both lay and professionals alike. What can you, as an individual, do to help remedy this problem? There are a number of approaches to take. First of all, educate yourself. There are many fine organizations dedicated to improving the lot of migraineurs you can familiarize yourself with easily. Second, participate in activities that help forward the cause of migraine-oriented organizations. Lastly, if you can afford it, donate to legitimate charities or foundations. Every little bit helps. Through education, understanding and influence our constituency, 36 million strong, can and must eradicate the stigma and aggressively move our agenda forward.