Depression Headache: Signs, Remedies, & Treatment

February 5, 2024

woman with hand on head representing Depression headache

Does depression cause headaches is a question we are commonly asked. This guide to headaches and depression addresses issues that include:

  • Can depression cause head pain?
  • Can depression cause migraine headaches?
  • Can depression make you sick?
  • Are depression and migraines related?

Can Depression Cause Headaches?

Depression can lead to headaches and various body pains. Research indicates a strong connection between tension headaches and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Studies show that 11% of individuals with mental health conditions had migraines prior to their diagnosis, including those with major depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders. Beyond this, up to 40% of those suffering from migraines may also have depression. It is also common for other headache types to be a symptom secondary to depression.

Headaches are categorized as primary or secondary.

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Primary headaches, often linked to lifestyle factors like chronic stress, alcohol consumption, and poor diet, include:

  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension headaches

Secondary headaches, on the other hand, stem from underpinning issues like muscle tension or medical conditions. These can include sinus headaches, exercise-induced headaches, chronic daily headaches, sex headaches, cough-induced headaches, and headaches from illnesses like flu or infections. They can also stem from cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure or blood clots. These headaches can strike at any time, often catching people off-guard.

Headaches related to depression typically fall under tension or migraine categories. The relationship between depression and headaches depends on the regularity of the headaches, and this can be challenging to pinpoint.

Frequent headaches linked to muscle tension and stress might lead to depressive symptoms. If you are already suffering from depression, headaches may occur as a symptom. According to National Headache Foundation, tension headaches are commonly secondary headaches triggered by depression.

woman with headache representing Depression headache

What Does a Depression Headache Feel Like?

A headache associated with depression, often a tension-type headache, normally feels like a constant, dull ache on both sides of the head or at the temples. People often report feeling a tight, band-like sensation around the head. These headaches might also involve sensitivity to light and noise, similar to migraines, and can be accompanied by neck and shoulder stiffness or pain.

Unlike migraines, depression-related headaches usually do not have pulsating qualities, and they are less likely to be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. They may persist for several hours or even days, often worsening as the day progresses. The intensity of these headaches can vary, from mild to severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

Beyond this, depression-related headaches can inflame the feelings of sadness or irritability associated with depression, creating a cycle where the headache intensifies depressive symptoms, which in turn makes the headache worse. Experiences of headaches associated with depression may vary widely, then.

Signs of a Depression Headache

Depression-related headaches are usually tension-type headaches that present with an ongoing dull ache that may feel like a persistent band of pressure around the head. The pain is usually not localized but can affect the entire head, sometimes accompanied by neck pain. Signs of depression headaches can be characterized as follows:

  • Continuous dull ache: Unlike sharp or throbbing pains seen in other headache types, a depression headache typically manifests as a constant, dull pain.
  • Radiating pain: The pain may radiate, spreading to more than one area of the head, and is often accompanied by muscle tension in the neck and scalp.
  • Gradual onset: Tension headaches linked to depression tend to develop more gradually than other types of headaches.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound: Although less severe than in migraines, there may be some sensitivity to light and sound with a depression-related headache.
  • Lack of pulsating quality: Unlike migraines, depression headaches usually don’t pulsate and are less likely to cause nausea or vomiting.
  • Worsening of depressive symptoms: These headaches can intensify feelings of sadness or irritability, creating a feedback loop that worsens both the headache and depressive symptoms.

Depression headaches should be differentiated from other types like sinus headaches, which involve pain around the forehead, cheeks, and nose, and are not usually associated with depression. Migraines, by contrast, are more acute and debilitating, often manifesting before the onset of depression. This type of headache can significantly impact daily functioning.

Identifying the symptoms of a depression headache can help inform appropriate treatment, as it may be part of a larger issue of depression that needs to be addressed. 

Remedies for a Depression Headache

Managing a depression headache involves addressing both the physical pain and the underlying depressive symptoms. Here are some effective remedies.

Stress management techniques

Practices like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation can help alleviate the stress that often exacerbates depression headaches.

Regular exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, can reduce tension and improve mood, helping to alleviate both depression and its associated headaches.

Adequate sleep

Establishing a regular sleep schedule and ensuring quality sleep can significantly reduce headache frequency and intensity.

Healthy diet

A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the incidence of headaches.

Limiting alcohol and caffeine

Reducing intake of alcohol and caffeine can help, as both can inflame depressive symptoms and headaches.

Hydration

Staying well-hydrated helps in preventing headaches, as dehydration can trigger or worsen them.

Relaxation and leisure activities

Engaging in hobbies and activities that you enjoy can improve your mood and reduce stress, thereby helping to alleviate headaches.

Professional counseling

Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can aid people in dealing with the root causes of depression and associated headaches. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be especially effective in managing depression and its symptoms, including headaches, by helping people to change negative thought patterns and behaviors.

Medications

Sometimes, medication such as SSRI antidepressants or specific headache relief drugs may be prescribed by a healthcare professional to manage the symptoms.

Consult with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, especially since depression and its symptoms can vary widely among individuals.

FAQs

Can depression cause physical symptoms?

Yes, depression can manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, changes in appetite, body aches, and disrupted sleep patterns.

Can being depressed make you sick?

Being depressed can negatively impact your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and illnesses, and can inflame existing conditions.

Can depression cause dizziness?

Depression can sometimes cause dizziness or lightheadedness, which may be related to anxiety, medication side effects, or changes in eating and sleeping habits associated with depression.

people hugging each other representing Signs of depression headaches

Get Treatment for Depression at Connections

If you are searching for depression treatment in Orange County, consider Connections Mental Health. We specialize in the intensive inpatient treatment of all types of mental health conditions, including depression, at our small, welcoming beachside facility.

You can engage with a personalized blend of treatments that include medications, psychotherapies, individual and group counseling, and holistic therapies. During therapy sessions, you will learn healthy coping skills and you should find that your mood improves alongside everyday functioning.

When you are ready to move beyond a life constrained by major depressive disorder, call 844-759-0999 for immediate assistance.

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