A recent study suggests a potential connection between frequent headaches in teenagers and their experiences of bullying and contemplation of suicide. Published in the digital edition of the medical journal Neurology, the research doesn’t establish a causal relationship between bullying or suicidal thoughts and headaches, but it does reveal an association.
The lead author of the study, Serena L. Orr from the University of Calgary in Canada, noted, “While headaches are a prevalent concern among teenagers, our investigation delved beyond the biological components to encompass the psychological and social factors intertwined with headaches.”
Orr further stated, “Our findings indicate that occurrences of bullying and instances of attempted or contemplated suicide might be correlated with recurring headaches in teenagers, independently of mood and anxiety disorders.”
This extensive study encompassed over 2.2 million adolescents with an average age of 14. Among the participants, 0.5 per cent self-identified as gender diverse, encompassing transgender and nonbinary individuals.
Of the total, 11 per cent disclosed experiencing frequent recurrent headaches, classified as those happening more than once a week.
Regarding bullying, 25 per cent of the participants revealed encountering pervasive overt bullying, encompassing physical and verbal aggression, name-calling, insults, and virtual threats. Additionally, 17 per cent disclosed enduring frequent relational bullying, which involved spreading rumours, exclusion, and posting harmful content about them online.
Furthermore, 17 per cent of participants acknowledged contemplating or attempting suicide at some point in their lives.
The study unveiled that those grappling with frequent headaches were almost three times more inclined to be targets of bullying compared to their counterparts.
Teenagers who had experienced bullying or had thoughts of suicide exhibited nearly twice the likelihood of experiencing recurring headaches, while those with mood and anxiety disorders faced a 50 and 74 per cent higher probability, respectively, of encountering frequent headaches than their peers.
Researchers also detected that 34 per cent of teenagers plagued by recurrent headaches reported enduring relational bullying at least once monthly, in contrast to 14 per cent of those experiencing headaches fewer than once a week.
Likewise, 34 per cent of adolescents grappling with frequent headaches admitted to contemplating suicide or making one or more suicide attempts, in comparison to 14 per cent of teenagers with infrequent headaches.
Orr asserted, “These findings should stimulate further investigations into anti-bullying interventions and an enhanced comprehension of why gender diverse youth appear to be more susceptible to headache disorders.”
She concluded, “Additionally, these results should prompt policymakers to heighten their endeavors in preventing bullying and motivate healthcare professionals to assess children and teenagers with headache disorders for indications of bullying and suicidal tendencies.”
It’s important to note that a limitation of this study pertains to the reliance on participants’ self-reported headaches and related information, which might not be entirely accurate due to memory and other factors.